Achieving equitable health outcomes begins in the lab, with equitable clinical trials, and we are now in a position to highlight and address inequity, Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) President and CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath explains in an interview with the Mayo Clinic.
“COVID-19 shined a bright light on unequal health outcomes in the U.S. and worldwide. This is a moment when opportunity can meet preparation, allowing us to make significant progress and help minorities and the underserved lead healthier lives. And clinical trial diversity is an important place to start,” says Dr. McMurry-Heath.
Dr. McMurry-Heath maintains that the inclusion of diverse and marginalized groups in clinical trials requires a concerted effort to address the problem by all stakeholders — including the academic medical centers that often conduct clinical trials. She gives an example from her own life that illustrates the extent of the problem:
“I remember when my father was ill and he was being treated in one of the Texas Medical Center hospitals in Houston. It was a gleaming, beautiful hospital that had a baby grand piano in the lobby and marble floors. When I would visit him, I sometimes would go down into the tunnels to get food from one of the other connected hospitals. In some, the patients appeared to be 90% Black. Yet when I returned to the gleaming baby grand piano hospital, I would rarely see a person of color. Those hospitals are just a few blocks away from each other. I often hear, ‘well, our academic medical centers aren’t located where patients of color can reach them.’ But perhaps they’re not welcoming those patients in the door. We need to think outside the box to reengineer how we operate to really address this issue.”
The path forward for clinical trial diversity
There are solutions, according to Dr. McMurry-Heath:
“Using lessons learned from the pandemic, drug and diagnostic companies are exploring new ways to reach under-represented communities. For example, we can make trials simpler and more accessible, providing things like free transportation to clinic sites or allowing virtual participation. We can improve the documentation of minority representation in trials, as well as the role of federal agencies.
“In addition, the medical community should explore ways to increase the number of investigators from communities of color. It is also important for companies to have diverse workforces, themselves, so that multiple perspectives are always considered and that researchers look like the community they ultimately wish to serve.”
The Small Business Innovation Research and the Small Business Technology Transfer programs will also play an important role in addressing inequity, according to Dr. McMurry-Heath.
BIO’s efforts at clinical trial diversity
BIO’S efforts to promote clinical trial diversity include our BIOEquality Agenda. “With this initiative we would like to see tangible results in the form of greater diversity in clinical trials, more equitable representation in STEM fields, and ample health resources for underserved communities,” says Dr. McMurry-Heath.
In addition, BIO offers practical assistance for improving diversity in clinical trials, with a section addressing the issue in ctpop.org, a website created by BIO to help patients navigate the world of clinical trials.