This Funder is Bringing Lessons Learned in Europe to Bear on Kentucky Lung Cancer

It seems as if the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) is going to start applying what it’s learned in Eastern Europe to the wilds of Kentucky.

For years, BMSF has had a Cancer In Europe grantmaking program, giving to reduce the disparities in care and outcomes experienced by those in central and eastern Europe. It’s been steadily giving chunks of money under $100K to a wide array of programs throughout the region. And BMSF, as a whole, has funded cancer projects as well, but since 2009, it's given almost exclusively to international cancer initiatives, sidestepping the United States. 

Related: Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation: Grants for Disease

But all that may be changing. This week, the University of Kentucky announced a $7 million grant from BMSF to push a collaborative project geared to boost the survivorship of lung cancer in Kentucky.

Not too surprisingly, Kentucky is highest in the country for lung cancer cases, thanks in part to the highest smoking rate in the nation and a long history of coal mining. This new program is convened by Kentucky LEADS (Lung Cancer Education, Awareness, Detection, Survivorship), a collaboration between the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, and the Lung Cancer Alliance.

In a lot of ways, Kentucky has much in common with those neglected regions of eastern and central Europe where BMSF has done other cancer work. It’s white, and it’s poor. Most the jobs are industrial, with chemical and particulate exposure as part of the package. And the smoking rate is high: Nine out of the top ten countries with the highest cigarette consumption rates are in Eastern Europe or the Balkans (for comparison, the U.S. is number 51 on the list).

BMSF’s work in Europe focused mainly on changing how cancer is managed in these less-developed regions of Europe. While a bad case of cancer might be manageable in France or Germany, in Croatia or Bulgaria it more often proves fatal.

Kentucky is like that, too. Isolated from the best hospitals and best doctors, lung cancer cases in the mountains often miss out on early detection, which gives patients the best chance of surviving. What BMSF wants to do is study the patterns and factors affecting patient referral to boost early detection numbers, while a UK team develops a survivorship program that can help maintain quality of life. The international angle is interesting but not surprising, given where BMSF is coming from on this issue.

"Historically there's not been a lot of research or effort put into lung cancer survivorship because, unfortunately, there hasn't been much survivorship," said Jamie Studts, associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Kentucky and director of Kentucky LEADS. "This project is an effort across several domains to help providers, patients, caregivers, and healthcare programs do the best job possible to achieve better care and increase lung cancer survivorship."