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Bringing health disparities front and center at this year’s ASCO

May 17, 2021
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s an advocate for health equity for over 25 years, Patricia Doykos has spent her career working to shine a spotlight on widespread gaps that have long existed in healthcare. Today, the conversation is changing, and discussions of cutting-edge science and treatment breakthroughs are joining discussions of how providers can reach medically underserved patients. 

Patricia Doykos, executive director, Health Equity, Bristol Myers Squibb

Patricia Doykos, executive director, Health Equity, Bristol Myers Squibb

Over the past year, those gaps that Doykos says have always existed have been further exacerbated and exposed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – and yet, at the same time, health equity initiatives have expanded and evolved in important ways. 

What once were small-scale, disease-specific grassroots efforts have become industry-wide priorities that are taking center stage in healthcare. 

“We are in the midst of a shifting mindset that recognizes the need to not only harness science and innovate in order to offer the best treatments possible, but also to prioritize health equity in order to maximize the reach and potential of treatments for all patients,” said Doykos, who now serves as executive director, Health Equity, Bristol Myers Squibb.

This new mindset will come to life at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) 2021 meeting.  

“Bristol Myers Squibb has a long history of addressing health disparities, dating back to the company’s and the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation’s work globally in HIV/AIDS, and it is an integral part of our overall mission to promote health equity and improve the health outcomes of patients with serious diseases,” said Doykos. “We are excited to partner with other leaders at this year’s ASCO meeting to bring health equity to the forefront and help foster a cancer community focused on achieving optimal health outcomes for all people living with cancer.”  

1. ASCO’s first ever health equity track 

This year, Bristol Myers Squibb will sponsor ASCO’s first-ever scientific track dedicated solely to health equity.

“By creating a dedicated health equity research track and setting it alongside other established scientific tracks, ASCO, which is one of most influential voices in cancer, is validating health equity as a priority area of focus for the cancer community,” said Doykos. “We can have the best treatments, guidelines and science in the world, but these tools are hamstrung in the impact they can have if they do not reach the underserved and heavily burdened populations who need them.” 

2. Striving to improve cancer care for the LGBTQI+ community

Research shows that more than half of the LGBTQI+ community has faced some sort of healthcare discrimination. That discrimination, experts say, can make an LGBTQI+ patient three times more likely to postpone care. The disparities experienced by these patients, especially in cancer care, can lead to poorer outcomes and overall health. Less adequate care can have lasting implications, but the long-term impact is not well understood because of the lack of data on the experiences of LGBTQI+ cancer survivors.  

At ASCO, the National LGBT Cancer Network will preview results of its ‘OUT: The National Cancer Survey,’ which asked people who have been previously diagnosed with cancer and who identify as LGBTQI+ to share their cancer experiences. The survey, which was developed with support from over 100 community partners, including Bristol Myers Squibb, is the largest known sample of insights from LGBTQI+ cancer survivors in the world. 

Paul Shay, Bristol Myers Squibb’s PRIDE Alliance People and Business Resource Group lead

Paul Shay, Bristol Myers Squibb’s PRIDE Alliance People and Business Resource Group lead

“This research has the potential to be ‘the’ benchmark study in understanding LGBTQI+ patients’ experiences with the healthcare system during their cancer diagnosis, treatment and care,” explained Bristol Myers Squibb’s PRIDE Alliance People and Business Resource Group lead Paul Shay. “With this invaluable data, we will be able to not only help identify the key issues at hand from a large sample, but also drive action towards addressing gaps in care experienced by underserved LGBTQI+ patients. Working together with the LGBT Cancer Network, we believe this data can have a significant impact toward helping the healthcare system enable cancer patients in this community to achieve better outcomes.” 

While the results will be previewed at ASCO, the full survey will be unveiled at a launch event during Pride Month in June. 

3. Conquering veteran cancer, together 

In the U.S., approximately 40,000 military veterans are diagnosed with cancer each year. Cancer care management is a top service offered by the nation’s Veterans Affairs health system, and until recently, that care was almost exclusively delivered in person. However, with many of the nation’s veterans living in remote locations, dealing with mobility or transportation issues or hesitation to travel to the nearest hospital, the nation’s largest health system has been pushed to consider new ways of delivering cancer care. 

At this year’s ASCO, Bristol Myers Squibb is sponsoring the second annual Conquering Veteran Cancer, Together panel. The company’s CEO Giovanni Caforio, M.D., will be giving remarks at the event, which will also include a moderated conversation with Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski, head men’s basketball coach at Duke University, and a graduate of West Point. 

A panel discussion will follow, moderated by Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation director Catharine Grimes, delving into the importance of diversity in clinical trials with a particular focus on veterans. This panel will feature experts including Kameron Matthews, M.D., chief medical officer for the Veterans Health Administration, Lori Pierce, M.D., president of ASCO, Carolyn Clancy, M.D., active deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs and Manali Patel, M.D., of Stanford University.

4. Supporting survivors during and after treatment

While breakthroughs in cancer research are making it possible for more people to live longer than ever with cancer, there is a need to eliminate barriers in vulnerable populations to ensure everyone is able to receive quality care. 

Cancer survivors today face a number of challenges, including long-term physical, mental and emotional effects, which can be more pronounced in underserved communities. 

At ASCO, Bristol Myers Squibb will bring together a healthcare practitioner and cancer survivors for Health Equity Q&A: The Gaps in Cancer Care, a live, virtual panel on health equity and survivorship. Moderated by Bristol Myers Squibb’s Laura Williams, PharmD, associate director, Immuno-Oncology Pan-tumor Medical Strategy, the panel will discuss how healthcare professionals can address core challenges including access to care, systemic racial biases, and disparities in the approach to cancer survivorship. Please view the live virtual panel on Saturday, June 5, 2021 from 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM EST or access the on-demand recording after the event here.

While significant progress has been made in treating cancer, research can only make a broad impact if patients have equitable access to the care that they deserve. Now more than ever, the company recognizes the urgent need to do more to address serious gaps in care among the underserved in communities around the world. Advancing health equity for these communities is an essential step on the path toward transforming all patients’ lives through science.

“It’s empowering for Bristol Myers Squibb to be part of this larger health equity movement that is continuing to gain momentum,” Doykos noted. “My hope is that by facilitating these conversations, which shed a light on the diversity of patient journeys and the first-hand perspectives of patients, we’re sending a clear message to all underserved patients that, ‘we see you and we’re coming together to use all the tools we have to help better serve you.’”