Norwalk, Conn., November 30, 2023 — The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) announced today the first recipients of its Scholars Program to improve equity in myeloma research and overall outcomes by increasing workforce diversity.
Awardees Eden Biltibo, MD, MS, Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Joselle Cook, MBBS, Assistant Professor at Mayo Clinic Rochester, will each be awarded up to $100,000 per year for four years to support their career development to first-tenure track positions. The Scholars Program is an annual initiative from the MMRF, with support from Pfizer and GSK, to provide grant funding for Black researchers and clinicians (MD and/or PhD) who are currently active or interested in pursuing a research and/or clinical career in the field of myeloma.
“Multiple myeloma is a disease that disproportionately affects Black people and we are committed to ensuring that researchers and clinicians within the field more closely represent this patient population,” said Michael Andreini, President and CEO at the MMRF. “Dr. Biltibo and Dr. Cook’s work will add tremendous value to our field to advance understanding and treatment of myeloma across diverse patient communities.”
Black patients make up 20 percent of the approximately 35,000 people diagnosed with myeloma annually in the United States. Despite the high incidence of myeloma in the Black community, most Black patients are diagnosed later when compared to other patient populations, and increases in survival rates for Black patients have not kept pace with improved survival rates seen in other patient populations. Black patients are also underrepresented in the research and clinical studies that are driving new treatments, accounting for only 5 percent of clinical trial participants in the United States. In addition, Black researchers and clinicians are significantly underrepresented in hematology-oncology, comprising less than 4 percent of oncology fellows and only 3 percent of medical oncologists in the United States. Through initiatives like the Scholars Program, the MMRF is committed to improving diversity and inclusion in the research and clinical fields to drive health equity for all patient groups with myeloma.
Dr. Biltibo’s proposal entitled, “Identifying Effective and Cost-Conscious Maintenance Daratumumab Dosing,” focuses on equitable, utilization of immunotherapeutics in multiple myeloma and improving racial diversity of clinical trial participants in the same field. She will lead a single-arm phase II, non-inferiority clinical trial that will compare the 2-year MRD-negativity rate of subcutaneous 8-weekly DARZALEX® (daratumumab) and daily REVLIMID® (lenalidomide) maintenance therapy with 4-weekly DARZALEX® (daratumumab) and daily REVLIMID® (lenalidomide) maintenance therapy using a historical treatment cohort from the GRIFFIN trial.
Dr. Cook’s proposal entitled, “Prevalence of MGUS Among Unique Populations of Black People,” will determine the prevalence of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), a precursor disease to multiple myeloma, among East African people in Minnesota and an Afro-Caribbean population in Trinidad. She will lead a team that will use modern tools such as mass spectrometry to identify the presence of monoclonal protein. For those with positive MGUS tests, genome wide association studies and single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis will be performed to determine ancestral origins and correlate with the prevalence of SNPs known to be associated with higher prevalence of certain IgH translocations.
Multiple myeloma is the second most common blood cancer in the US. It develops in the bone marrow and can spread throughout the body. In 2023, multiple myeloma is expected to be diagnosed in more than 35,000 Americans and take the lives of 12,000. Despite advances, most patients relapse and there is still no cure. Multiple myeloma is twice as common in the Black community compared to other ethnicities and the outcomes for Black patients are generally worse than that of white patients.
The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) is the largest nonprofit in the world solely focused on accelerating a cure for each and every multiple myeloma patient. We drive the development and delivery of next-generation therapies, use data to drive optimal and more personalized treatment approaches, and empower myeloma patients with information and resources to extend their lives. Central to our mission is our commitment to advancing health equity so that all myeloma patients can benefit from the scientific and clinical advances we pursue. Since our inception, the MMRF has committed over $500 million for research, opened nearly 100 clinical trials, and helped bring 15+ FDA-approved therapies to market, which have tripled the life expectancy of myeloma patients. To learn more, visit www.themmrf.org.
C.J. Volpe, Director, PR and Communications