A pilot program from Simmons’ Office of Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity aims to reach underserved communities.
A new pilot program focused on helping patients navigate clinical trials has shown early promise in increasing representation of minorities in cancer clinical trials. Fabian E. Robles, M.S., CHI, is Simmons Cancer Center’s first clinical trial navigator, a position within the center’s Office of Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity (COEE) designed to help patients from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds understand the importance and benefits of clinical trials. He works with patients who might be potential trial candidates, educating them about clinical trials and providing support to overcome language, transportation, and financial barriers.
“Minority populations often require an interpreter to communicate with health care professionals,” Mr. Robles says. “This can create a disconnect when presenting clinical trial options, given that interpreters may not have the proficiency to explain complexities to the patient.” The efforts of Mr. Robles and his staff to establish open and honest lines of communication with patients and their families throughout their cancer care have provided a boost to the program. “By helping the patient and their families overcome their fears and doubts,” says Mr. Robles, “we are able to gain their trust, confidence, and interest in the clinical trials.”
“I’m thrilled to collaborate with the Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity office on multiple projects designed to reach the cancer patient community, especially the minority populations within our region.”
Racial and ethnic minorities, as well as other diverse groups, are commonly underrepresented in trials because they often lack access to treatment centers that offer research studies. Parkland Health, in partnership with Simmons Cancer Center, has been a leader among safety-net institutions by offering clinical trials to underserved populations and minorities.
A recent Texas Clinical Trials Participation Program Award from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) will provide $1.5 million for reimbursements to patients enrolled in the pilot program for nonclinical costs, including transportation and lodging. The program includes support from the Lazarex Cancer Foundation and hopes to provide equitable access to high-quality cancer care to underserved populations.
“We’re very pleased with the results of our pilot clinical trials navigator program. We’ve seen a considerable increase in enrollment among Hispanic minorities, specifically, into several of our cancer clinical trials,” says Aimee Israel, Assistant Director of the COEE.
At Parkland, more than 75% of cancer patients belonged to underrepresented racial or ethnic minorities and constituted 85.7% of patients enrolled in therapeutic trials in 2021 (69.6% Hispanic and 16.1% African American). Compared with the general U.S. population (1% Hispanic and 5% African American), the enrollment numbers are extraordinary.
Plans are to seek additional funding to expand the program to more sites. The services provided by the clinical trial navigator support the COEE’s mission to reduce the cancer burden in North Texas and promote equity in cancer prevention, as well as care and outcomes through research, particularly for racially and ethnically diverse communities.
“I’m thrilled to collaborate with the Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity office on multiple projects designed to reach the cancer patient community, especially the minority populations within our region,” Mr. Robles says.
Fabian E. Robles, M.S., CHI, is a clinical trial navigator within Simmons Cancer Center’s Office of Community Outreach, Engagement, and Equity.