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Diversity and inclusion in clinical trials: is it a time for change?

First up, the hard truth is that clinical trial populations are not diverse. People of certain ethnicities, females and the elderly are typically underrepresented in clinical research. And you might ask, “why?”

While demographics that make us diverse might not be direct barriers themselves, factors relating to them can mean people are unable to take part in clinical trials. For example:

  • Religious and cultural barriers that are more prominent among ethnic minorities

  • Travel and mobility are more likely to be challenging among the elderly

  • Mistrust in the pharmaceutical industry based on historical treatment of ethnic minorities

So yes, there are challenges that lead to a lack of diversity in clinical trials. But there’s still a need to overcome them.

The science behind diversity

You might be wondering why it’s so important for clinical trials to be diverse anyway. Well, people respond to treatments differently based on their ethnicity, gender and age. And on top of that, we think results like these speak for themselves:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) is three times more common in women than in men

  • Developing type 2 diabetes is reported to be as much as 6 times higher in South Asians than in Europeans

  • The prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans is the highest in the world and develops at younger ages than other groups in the U.S

So, for example, if a clinical trial is investigating a treatment for MS, yet the majority of the participants are men, is it really going to help the MS population when women are mostly affected? If clinical trials are investigating high blood pressure treatments, yet do not include African American participants, are the results really going to be representative?

So, firstly, clinical trials need to be diverse to ensure the treatment represents the intended disease population.

Corporate responsibility

All companies have a corporate responsibility to ensure diversity. This includes employees at all levels, who should be truly representative and reflective of the people the organisation serves - this is particularly relevant for pharmaceutical companies! And while diversity itself is important, so is a culture that encourages diversity.

Maximising understanding of patients and consumers

It seems obvious that a diverse workplace would lead to a better understanding of the positioning of a diverse consumer base. But if pharma companies maximise how much they understand and connect with a diverse audience, they’ll be more likely to achieve success.

Increasing trust in the general public

There’s a lack of trust in the pharma industry in general, but it’s more pronounced in certain ethnic groups than white people. For example, the way certain ethnic groups have been treated throughout history has left a lasting effect on people’s perceptions of clinical research throughout the world. So, damage needs to be repaired from previous scandals that have led to pharmaceutical companies having a negative reputation, and work needs to be done with well-considered strategies to help rebuild trust and relationships. Because trust is key, and without it, pharma will achieve limited success.

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