Throughout the month of April, people working in all facets of healthcare have been discussing efforts surrounding National Minority Health Month. This time is set aside each year to address the health disparities that affect racial and ethnic minorities.
One such disparity, unfortunately, exists in the world of drug development. For example, according to the FDA, African-Americans represent 12 percent of the total U.S. population, but only 5 percent of clinical trial participants. Hispanics account for 16 percent of the total population but only 1 percent of trial volunteers.
A lack of diversity in clinical trials can have negative consequences for drug research. In a recent Forbes editorial, Lilly CEO John Lechleiter pointed out that “a medicine’s effectiveness can vary depending on a person’s ethnicity, lifestyle, culture and genetic make-up. When clinical trials are skewed toward Caucasians, researchers can miss key interactions between the drug and genes.”
A failure to involve minority patients also means that drug makers could be missing opportunities to find better treatments for diseases that have a disproportionate impact on certain communities. The I’m in: Clinical Trials for Better Health Campaign website, tells us that African Americans are disproportionately affected by cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease and diabetes; Asian Americans are disproportionately affected by COPD, hepatitis B and tuberculosis, and Hispanics by asthma, cancer and heart disease. Encouraging more people from different ethnic backgrounds to participate in clinical trials could help to spur the kind of innovation needed to develop more personalized medicines that take into account a person’s specific needs based on both their disease and their genetic makeup.
At Lilly COI, our hope is that by pursuing innovative approaches to connecting patients with clinical trials, and by participating openly on social networking sites like Twitter, we can provide more opportunities for minorities to get involved in clinical research that is relevant to them.
Through the Patients 2 Trials Consortium we’re working on a way to allow patients to bring their own health data to match their specific health profile to a relevant trial. At the same time, this project hopes to bring consistency to the way information about clinical trial eligibility criteria is presented on ClinicalTrials.gov. By making it easier for all patients to find and connect to clinical trials based on their custom profile, minority groups may have a larger representation overall.
Another fundamental way for minority patients to participate in clinical research is to set up open lines of communication and encouraging people from all walks of life to share their thoughts on improving clinical trials. Additional diversity of perspective brought to clinical trial decision making, design and execution will result in new opportunities for minority participation. We’d love to hear from you about what you see as barriers to participation in clinical research, and how we can help overcome them. Leave a comment on the blog or send us a tweet, anytime.