Merck Foundation funnels $20M to launch program aimed at making cancer care more equitable

Merck’s philanthropic arm, the Merck Foundation, is launching a new $20 million fund aimed at shoring up better access to cancer care for underserved communities across the U.S.

This five-year funding program will enable the creation of the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care, and the funds will be granted to organizations that aim to help, for example, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, those living in rural areas, low-income individuals and the uninsured who, Merck said in an accompanying release, are “disproportionately affected by cancer” yet often have limited access to cancer screenings, care and treatment.

In a strong message, the foundation’s CEO Carmen Villar said in the release that the “severity” of the need to take action when it comes to equity in cancer care “cannot be overstated and will not be overlooked.

“We must move with urgency and work together to provide all people living with cancer access to high-quality care and treatment. The creation of the Alliance is an important step toward ensuring social determinants of health no longer factor into an individual’s ability to receive vital healthcare.”

The money is already allocated to several grantees including the Boston Medical Center, the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering. There are currently seven grantees in total, all major cancer organizations, though exact details on the money and help being sent to each were not broken down.

The foundation did, however, give some detail on its support for a National Program Office at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center, in partnership with the VCU Center on Health Disparities, which “will assist Alliance program grantees in building partnerships with community-based organizations and provide technical assistance to support their programs."

The National Program Office will also both find and promote best practices to “enhance the delivery of cancer care in the United States,” according to the release.

The Merck Foundation is run separately from the pharma company Merck, but their disease focus often overlaps.

Merck currently markets one of the biggest cancer drugs in the world in Keytruda, which is approved in skin and lung cancers, among others, and made a massive $17.2 billion last year, by far the company’s biggest-selling drug.