PHILADELPHIA – While extensive research has pointed toward ways to ensure patients receive evidence-based cancer care, putting these solutions into widespread practice can be a complex, challenging, and inefficient process. Now, a new grant awarded to the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania will help identify methods to bridge this gap, improving uptake of state-of-the-science care that can have a significant impact for patients. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is funding the work through a P50 grant worth almost $5 million over five years. The award, part of the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative, makes Penn one of seven centers across the country working on this effort as part of the NCI’s Implementation Science Centers in Cancer Control.
The research program is focused on the intersection of implementation science and behavioral economics – working with clinicians and organizations to change their behavior in line with evidence-based approaches in their standard clinical workflows. Early projects include increasing referrals of cancer patients to a tobacco cessation program, increasing use of more affordable but equally effective cancer drugs, and exploring how COVID-19 has affected cancer treatment. Across the projects, questions related to health equity will be a key focus.
“We are unwavering in our commitment to deliver the best possible care for patients with cancer, and this programmatic grant will help us accumulate a body of evidence on how to efficiently implement research-supported best practices to transform cancer care,” said Rinad Beidas, PhD, an associate professor of Psychiatry and director of the Penn Implementation Science Center at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, one of three principal investigators of the program. The other two are Justin E. Bekelman, MD, professor of Radiation Oncology and director of the Penn Center for Cancer Care Innovation at the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC), and Robert A. Schnoll, PhD, a research professor of Psychiatry, a senior fellow in Penn’s Center for Public Health Initiatives, and associate director of Population Science and co-leader of the Tobacco and Environmental Carcinogenesis Program at the ACC.
“Through this research program, Penn Medicine will uniquely harness many of the world’s experts on the cutting edge of implementation science, behavioral economics, and cancer care innovation to solve some of the most complex problems in cancer care delivery,” Bekelman said.
As part of this research program, the Penn team will use innovative methodologies, pilot projects, and real-world clinical environments, in partnership with stakeholders, to achieve its overarching aim. Beidas will provide leadership and oversight for the team’s research components, along with Alison M. Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, an associate professor of Nursing and associate director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics. Projects involving clinical practices will take place within the network of 10 community and academic health sites across Penn Medicine, which Bekelman will lead, along with Lawrence Shulman, MD, deputy director for clinical services and director of global medicine at the ACC.
The team will also build collaborations with the other six Moonshot awardees to support national implementation science and the cancer care delivery research communities.
“This funding provides us with a unique opportunity to work with other top-tier cancer centers to bring a nationwide focus to bear on implementing these crucial innovations to improve the quality of cancer patient care, and we are very excited to see this come to fruition,” Schnoll said.
“This program positions Penn Medicine as a national leader in implementation science and behavioral economics and represents an exciting expansion of the strengths of the Penn Medicine community to radically and efficiently transform cancer care,” said Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the ACC, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center.
Other Penn research project leaders include David Asch, Frances Barg, Krisda Chaiyachati, Frank Leone, Brian Jenssen, Katherine Rendle, and Samuel Takvorian.