Single digits: Black, Hispanic scientists strikingly underrepresented at NCI among senior

Ned Sharpless [NCI director]: We started talking about this effort within the NCI probably last fall after events over the summer really caused a groundswell of interest across the NIH, the NCI in really examining the areas where the NCI has the most inequity related to the problems with structural racism. 

So, that’s the three groups I described, focusing on your cancer health disparities portfolio on our efforts to develop a diverse workforce. And I’m looking at inclusive NCI culture. 

So, we created this administrative structure that I spoke about earlier today and have now been working diligently for months to try and figure out how we can make things better. 

I think the work of these working groups and the steering committee has been really wonderful to be a part of this.

I think across the NCI, there’s just uniform enthusiasm to try and work in these areas, and it really feels like a different moment in time to me. We’ve done some communicating about the effort internally, but we wanted to get it to an advanced stage before we showed some of the progress and future plans to the joint boards today. 

So, we are now going to have three presentations and the first is going to be given by Tiffany Wallace, who is one of the co-chairs of the Cancer Health Disparities Working Group.

Working Group 1: Enhancing Research to Address Cancer Health Disparities

Tiffany Wallace [program director, Office of the Director, Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, NCI]: I am a co-chair for working group 1, which is the working group that is focused on Enhancing Research to Address Cancer Health Disparities. And today I’ll be presenting on behalf of the other working group co-chairs, specifically Dr. James Doroshow and Dr. Worta McCaskill-Stevens. 

So, the overall purpose and the charge for our working group is really to develop and to prioritize research recommendations that will help us to better determine what the upstream precursors are to cancer disparities, and then to furthermore implement those research programs to ultimately eliminate disparities and promote health equity. 

To do this, we propose to facilitate, in many cases, implemented research activities that will help us develop initiatives focused on advancing prevention, interventions, and implementation.

We are focused very broadly across the entire cancer continuum, and we’re interested in advancing everything from prevention through treatment and survivorship. And members of our working group are of diverse expertise and we’re focused on research including basic and translational all the way through to population sciences and treatment. 

Now, if you’re following along with the UNITE Initiative, our working group most aligns with the N Committee (New research on health disparities, minority health, and health equity), which is also focused on disparities and health equity, and we’re working to stay connected with them and coordinate. We want to avoid any redundancy in our efforts and, if possible, find points for synergy.

So, this is a very broad overview of what our goals and activities are as a working group. I’ll take a broad approach at this, but then we’ll talk a little bit more on specifics on how we’re approaching these goals in our following sides. 

In general, our first goal is really to take a little bit of a step back and do a landscape analysis of the field, and then identify some key diverse stakeholders to get input. And we anticipate that by doing this, we’re going to better be able to understand where the current gaps are, where the opportunities are for research and help to define our overall priorities. 

Our second goal is really to take that input and then develop and prioritize our research recommendations. And we anticipate that a lot of the input for this will come from our landscape analysis and stakeholders, but also from the members of our working group and those at NCI. And then our third goal will be to take those recommendations and to promote and implement those activities.

One of the first things that we did as a working group was to come together and identify some immediate actions. We understand that a lot of the work that we are charged with doing is going to take some significant time and effort. But we wanted to get to work right away and identify some things we could do now. 

One of the first things that we did was publish requests for information seeking stakeholder input. So, we currently have two RFIs out, the first focused on how to better enhance cancer disparities research. And the second one is more aligned with our working group 2, which you’ll hear from in just a minute, trying to seek ways to improve workforce diversity. So, these are currently out, we encourage you to take a look if you have a response to please submit it.

As a note, these RFIs are distinct to NCI. So, even if you submitted a response to the UNITE Initiatives call just a few months ago, we encourage you to consider submitting a response to us as we are staying connected and avoid any redundancy. 

Another activity we are involved in is developing a summit with multi-stakeholders that’s focused on ways to better increase inclusion and equity in cancer clinical research and clinical trials. I don’t have too many details to share today as we’re very much still in the planning phase, but we do anticipate that there may be a virtual or a hybrid event possibly later in the year.

In addition to being focused on advancing research throughout the extramural research community, we’re also interested, looking internally here at NCI within the Intramural Research Program. We want to see if we can expand the amount of cancer disparities on minority health and health equity research that’s ongoing here. 

So, we teamed up with the center for cancer research, CCR, the division of cancer epidemiology and genetics, DCEG, and a trans-NCI activities committee called CDAC—the Cancer Disparities Activities Committee—to develop some training awards. And so, we had both post-doctoral fellowships as well as research project awards for one to two year projects. 

Again, it’s the hope that this will expand the amount of research ongoing here within NCI intramural program. Next week, we teamed up with a trans-NCI working group that’s been working on a concept for quite some time.

This is led by CRCHD (Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities). I’m not going to talk too much about it, because you’re actually going to be hearing from Dr. LeeAnn Bailey tomorrow as she presents this concept. But it’s called connecting underrepresented populations to clinical trials. And the purpose is really focused on outreach and education interventions that are designed to help increase referrals, accrual and retention, hopefully of underrepresented populations into NCI clinical trials. 

Lastly, we know that there’s a lot of activities ongoing at NCI currently that have been pretty successful in advancing disparities research. And so, we proposed to identify some of those, if they’re ending, reissue them, perhaps even re-imagine them in some cases. And so we’re currently in the process of doing that.

I’ll take the final few slides just to review some of our ongoing and future activities. As I mentioned, we’re interested in doing a landscape analysis and this is underway. I want to make a comment that this is not a comprehensive analysis, but instead we’re focusing in on some key publications on different topics, all related to disparities, and all of which provided recommendations for how to move the field forward and looking to see what overlaps and what’s unique and what might inform our priorities and agenda. 

I also wanted to make the point that this is not a portfolio analysis of funded NCI research. Those efforts are being done elsewhere within NCI as well as part of the NIH’s UNITE committee activities. And we’re staying with that.

As far as the research…

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