Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center to open cell therapy clinical trials at Harris Health
Cell therapies can be a life-saving form of cancer treatment, but equitable access to these treatments remains a challenge, particularly within public safety-net healthcare systems that serve minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center is launching a pilot program to open cell therapy clinical trials at Harris Health through Harris Health Ben Taub Hospital and Harris Health Smith Clinic to address cancer care disparities.
“Cell therapies are a groundbreaking and transformative way to treat cancer, particularly blood cancers, but the high cost of therapy can be prohibitive for people who do not have insurance,” said Dr. Hoda Badr, professor of medicine – epidemiology and population sciences and leader of the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences Program at the Duncan Cancer Center. “By opening clinical trials at a safety-net hospital, we are opening the door for more people to get access to these therapies.”
“The Duncan Cancer Center is a cancer center for the entire community, including the uninsured community,” said Dr. Pavan Reddy, professor and director of the Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor. “We will leverage the strength of Baylor’s Center for Cell and Gene Therapy to offer life-saving treatments to our patients in the Harris Health.”
The pilot program at Harris Health will begin with phase I and II cell therapy clinical trials currently open at Baylor’s other affiliate hospitals, taking advantage of existing cutting-edge cell therapy facilities and resources. The first study planned to open will use a cell therapy developed at Baylor’s Center for Cell and Gene Therapy to treat multiple myeloma.
“This first trial has minimal risk and will apply to the most patients,” said Dr. Martha Mims, professor of medicine and section chief of hematology and oncology at Baylor, associate director of clinical research at the Duncan Cancer Center and hematologist at Ben Taub Hospital. “Over the course of the next few years, we hope to address the entire spectrum of diseases that can be treated with cell therapy.”
In addition to clinical services, the pilot program also will use community outreach and engagement to help address systemic barriers to cancer care and clinical research for socioeconomically disadvantaged patients. Program administrators will connect patients with existing resources to cover the costs of transportation, meals, childcare and more.
“We know some people may be distrustful of these therapies, so we will work to engage patients by going into communities to understand their barriers and concerns,” Badr said.
Duncan Cancer Center staff will create tailored patient education materials in both English and Spanish, with the goal of expanding to more languages in the future. Patient navigators will help guide clinical trial participants through the research process. Clinical trial investigators will be trained in cultural sensitivity to better accommodate diverse patient needs.
“We’re hoping that this pilot program will create a paradigm that can be exported to other cancer centers across the country for use at other safety-net hospitals,” Mims said.
Learn more about the pilot program and cell therapy access issues in a recent commentary published in the journal Cancer Cell.