Diversity in Clinical Trials: Carol L. Brown, MD, Chief Health Equity Officer, Highlights MSK's Role at The Atlantic People v. Cancer: Equity in Care Event

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Carol L. Brown, MD

In her new role as Chief Health Equity Officer, Carol Brown, MD, took part in The Atlantic’s virtual event, People v. Cancer: Equity in Care. The online session explored the health equity challenges facing patients, providers, and institutions and what is being done to improve cancer care for all. Dr. Brown joined esteemed colleagues from leading health care institutions across the country to address health disparities in cancer, expanding genetic research, and diversity in clinical trials.

When discussing diversity in clinical trials, Dr. Brown highlighted some of the positive steps that have been made over the past 15 to 20 years. She explained, “The main reason [for these positive steps] is the national focus and we’re starting to see these efforts pay off. We are seeing an improvement as we educate patients and make them aware of the importance and the availability of participating in clinical trials. They are definitely participating in greater numbers but we do have a long way to go.”

“Seventy percent of cancer patients in the United States don’t receive their care at a comprehensive cancer center or at a large health system, they receive it in their community and the biggest challenge is how to effectively bring clinical trials to these patients,” Dr. Brown explained.

As Chief Health Equity Officer, Dr. Brown is responsible for MSK initiatives focused on the reduction and elimination of cancer disparities experienced by medically underserved populations. This includes efforts to increase participation in clinical trials such as the Cancer Health Equities Research Program (CHERP), a unique partnership between MSK investigators and community oncologists to bring MSK clinical trials to underserved patients at their local institutions.

As part of CHERP, in collaboration with MSK’s Center for Molecular Oncology, Dr. Brown directs IMPACTED (Integrated Mutation Profiling of Actionable Cancer Targets to Eliminate Disparities). While Dr. Brown stressed that there is not a one size fits all approach, she shared an example of this one step that MSK has taken to reach a greater patient population and increase diverse enrollment in clinical trials.

This program provides low income and racially and ethnically diverse patients access to MSK-IMPACT™, a genomic profiling tool used to identify mutations driving their cancer, which can then lead to targeted therapies. Since the launch in 2016 the program has provided more than 400 underserved patients with tumor genomic profiling.

A telegenetics program was created so that those who’s profiling identified an inherited genetic defect that might predispose them to getting cancer, could speak with an MSK genetic counselor while they remained at their home or their community hospital. “We’ve been able to identify clinically useful information for their oncologists to use to guide their treatment, either participating in a clinical trial or using some other type of targeted therapy or immunotherapy.”

In addition to her role as Chief Health Equity Officer, Dr. Brown is a board-certified gynecologic oncologist who also serves as Vice Chair of Health Equity in the Department of Surgery. She holds academic appointments as Attending Surgeon and Member at MSK, and Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College.

The full event from The Atlantic is available online here.