Health

Pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb is looking to Kentucky to reach more oncologists and cancer patients to participate in clinical trials.

The commonwealth ranks in the top 10 states for rates of breast, colorectal, cervical and lung cancers. And in Kentucky, deaths related to smoking are three times higher than deaths from drug overdoses.

Clinical trials usually operate out of academic institutions or large medical centers in larger towns. Kentucky has a clinical trials network but people who live near communities like Bowling Green, Hopkinsville and Somerset have to drive long distances to participate in trials.

“In many cases, patients aren’t even aware trials are out there,” said Chris Boerner, president of U.S. Pharmaceuticals at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “That’s particularly true in rural areas or where educational levels aren’t where they need to be.”

And sometimes, said Boerner, practicing physicians don’t know the trials are available. He said his company is reaching out to individual physicians in more rural areas to get them involved in trials.

“There are a lot of patients that aren’t offered the opportunity to go on clinical trials, particularly when there are a lot of good drugs in development,” he said. “Finding and getting access to those patients to participate is something we have to work on.”

Boerner also said proposed changes to Medicaid are a concern for his company. Congress is currently looking at the way Kentucky and other states receive funds to pay for Medicaid services. Instead of being paid per service, states would receive one lump sum of money, called a block grant.

“Some of the challenges around how do you deal with the grants to the state for Medicaid, that could play out in a lot of different ways,” Boerner said. “The most important focus has been on patient access. We want to make sure that patients in whatever system ultimately is implemented continue to have access to therapy.”

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.