The Prostate Cancer Foundation and billionaire philanthropist Robert F. Smith Tuesday announced a new research effort aimed at reducing prostate cancer deaths in Black men.
“As African American men are at an increased risk for being diagnosed or dying from prostate cancer, understanding their risk profile and applying this knowledge earlier with strategic detection, care and decisions about cancer risk management is of utmost importance to address health inequity in the U.S.,” said Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners.
“This is why I made a personal commitment to help accelerate research, encourage African American men to participate in the study and subsequent testing, and develop new detection strategies that have the power to transform how we diagnose and treat this disease and help save lives,” he said.
According to a statement released by the foundation, the research Smith is supporting — the foundation did not reveal the amount of his financial support — “will lead to the development of the Smith Polygenic Risk Test for Prostate Cancer, a non-invasive, early detection test that will identify a man’s lifetime prostate cancer risk using a combination of more than 250 genetic variants obtained from a single sample of saliva or blood.”
The test is expected to cost less than $90 and be made available in PCF’s dedicated Veterans Affairs network, including the Robert Frederick Smith Center of Precision Oncology Excellence at the VA Chicago, according to the foundation.
The test is part of a larger PCF research initiative to improve the understanding of genetic risk in Black men and transform early detection and imaging strategies, risk management and clinical-decision making by men at highest lifetime risk of prostate cancer, foundation officials said.
The research, led by Dr. Chris Haiman, a genetic epidemiologist at USC, and international colleagues is aimed at accelerating the reduction of prostate cancer disparities for African American men by 2030.
Prostate cancer affects more than three million men in the U.S., with one in nine men diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. Black men are 76% more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men, and are more than twice as likely to die from the disease compared to men of other ethnicities, according to the PCF.
“Reducing prostate cancer disparities is at the heart of PCF’s mission to end prostate cancer once and for all,” said PCF President Dr. Jonathan W. Simons. “This test will democratize access to genetic testing and machine learning algorithms for prostate cancer risk. It will have a historical impact in public health, racial health justice and cancer research. We are profoundly grateful to partner with Robert to close the health equity gap and spare more men the hardship of a late-stage prostate cancer diagnosis.”
According to the foundation, most genomic studies of prostate cancer have focused on men of European ancestry. The Smith-PCF initiative “will increase the representation of African American men in the study and vastly expand the research to allow Dr. Haiman to quadruple the size of his study cohort, a key step to providing worldwide access to the Smith Polygenic Risk Test as soon as possible,” according to the foundation.
Smith, whose net worth was estimated at $5 billion by Forbes last September, drew headlines when he announced he would pay off the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.