Minority representation in clinical trials is an issue the coronavirus vaccine trials has brought out of medical publications and journals and into the broader media.
“If Black people have been the victims of COVID-19, we’re going to be the key to unlocking the mystery of COVID-19,” Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, told the Los Angeles Times.
Recruiting minorities for clinical trials is not a new issue. Five years ago, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research began publishing demographic summaries of clinical trials. The reports are in response to a Congressional mandate “to report on the diversity of participants in clinical trials and the extent to which safety and effectiveness data is based on demographic factors such as sex, age, and race.”
A recent article on the pharmaceutical news site PMLive carried the headline “If our patients are diverse, why are clinical trials so white?” The article notes that, “Although 20% of the people living with multiple myeloma (cancer of plasma cells) in the US are African Americans, they only account for 6% of all patients in clinical trials.”
Clinical trial managers and researchers are making an effort to diversify their patient volunteers. Writing in Stat, Jocelyn Ashford, a patient advocate and trial recruiter, says creating an inclusive clinical trial requires engaging “the target community in discussions around the recruitment plan. By bringing these communities to the table early, we can hear their input instead of making assumptions about how to best reach them.”
In recruiting Black participants, she’s reached out to historically Black fraternities and sororities. “These organized groups of educated, social-minded individuals are looking to give back to their communities and can act as bridges to their parents, grandparents, and the Black community more broadly.”
Forbes last year suggested that a key to increasing minority representation is to make it easier for minorities to participate by designing ways to gather the data via wearables. It’s also important, says the Forbes article, that clinical trial investigators themselves be representative of different groups.
Citing a Clinical Research Pathways report on “Diversity in Clinical Trials,” Forbes observes that “patients from minority communities are more likely to enroll when they learn about studies from doctors in their own communities.”
For the earliest of the COVID trials, Moderna is getting help from Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. He has a record of successfully recruiting minority trial volunteers, according to Kaiser Health News.
Said del Rios, “We’re trying to do our best to get out to the communities that are most at risk.”