The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in the US has partnered with non-profit Lazarex Cancer Foundation to launch a new study to improve participant diversity in cancer clinical trials.

Dubbed IMPACT, the three-year study will focus on medically underserved populations such as low-income individuals and racial and ethnic minorities.

Beginning with UCSF this month, the trial is set to expand to other sites across the US. It will enrol 250 patients at UCSF Health and University of Southern California (USC) in the first year.

The main objective of the study is to establish the most significant financial challenges for patient recruitment and approaches to reduce them.

UCSF medicinal oncology assistant professor Hala Borno said: “We know from looking at population-level data from cancer registries that certain tumours disproportionately affect racial/ethnic minority groups.

“As a practicing oncologist and researcher, I worry that if our clinical trial participants do not, at a minimum, reflect the patients we treat, we can do more harm, and even widen present day cancer disparities.”

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According to previous studies, less than 5% of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials. Ethnic and racial minorities are enrolled at even lower rates, despite them bearing the highest cancer burden in the US.

UCSF noted that socioeconomic factors such as financial barriers also contribute to the ‘under-enrolment’.

The IMPACT study will enrol all adults with solid or hematologic malignancies. Participants plus a companion will be reimbursed for travel expenses to trial sites.

The study will investigate the effectiveness of a sliding scale financial reimbursement programme, which will cover additional costs for patients who earn up to four times the poverty level and smaller amounts for those with household incomes up to 700% of poverty.

Lazarex Cancer Foundation founder and board chair Dana Dornsife said: “By offering reimbursements through IMPACT, patients can say ‘yes’ to participating in clinical trials.

“Consequently, clinical trials see increased patient enrolment and minority participation, and patients are better able to stay the course of the trial.”