Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation donates $2.5 million to Penn Medicine Princeton to support new geriatric oncology program

The Penn Medicine Princeton Cancer Center in Plainsboro has received a $2.5 million grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation to help fund a new program for older adults with cancer.

The hospital’s new geriatric oncology program will expand research opportunities and professional expertise in geriatrics while increasing outreach to seniors in the central New Jersey community.

“We serve a dynamic population that is aging and experiences higher cancer rates than the national average, and all of them deserve the very best, most personalized care we can offer,” said James Demetriades, CEO of Penn Medicine Princeton Health, in a news release about the new program.

“We see a significant and growing need for specialized cancer care for older adults,” said Demetriades. “Today, 70 percent of our patients with cancer are 65 or older, and 18 percent are at least 80 years old. Every one of those individuals faces unique challenges, and we are committed to working with them to develop care plans that meet their unique needs.”

Ramy Sedhom, a clinical assistant professor of hematology-oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, will lead the geriatric oncology program at Princeton Health. Sedhom is a co-leader of geriatric oncology service across the Penn Medicine system. A faculty member at the Penn Center for Cancer Care Innovation, he serves on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network committee that develops clinical practice guidelines for oncology for older adults.

“Our program is rooted in the proposition of caring for the whole patient, not their disease,” said Sedhom. “There is a core tenant in geriatrics — you don’t know what you don’t know. Older adults are a distinct group with unique personal and caregiver needs. We are fortunate to receive support from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation to transform the cancer care of older adults in our community.”

As part of the program, patients aged 80 and older will undergo a geriatric assessment to evaluate their health condition, as well as social, cultural, spiritual, financial, and emotional factors.

Historically, older adults have not been well-represented in clinical trials, which poses a challenge for oncologists attempting to match the latest treatments with this population, resulting in health equity gaps in geriatric oncology care. Initiatives driven by the new geriatric oncology program aim to change this.

“The Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation’s focus on health equity has a goal to empower and scale new ideas with the potential to improve and flourish,” said John Damonti, president of the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, in the news release. “In that spirit, we are proud to support the creation of a geriatric oncology program at Penn Medicine Princeton Health. This new program will provide comprehensive, personalized care to people over 65, who face particular needs that can often be overlooked. It will also fund innovative research, infrastructure development, education, and outreach to expand the reach and impact of this work.”

The grant will support the Geriatric Oncology Program’s efforts to build a research infrastructure to design and implement clinical trials to improve the care of older adults with cancer. It will also bolster an array of other crucial activities, such as:

• Recruiting multidisciplinary teams of professionals with expertise in geriatrics, including clinicians, supportive care staff, and community health navigators.

• Testing new treatments and care delivery models by bringing new research from Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center to patients in central New Jersey.

• Expanding geriatric competencies of Princeton Health staff through education and increasing outreach to seniors through community health navigators.