Patient diversity needed in COVID-19 research

Emma Morriss

Innovative Trials, a clinical trial patient recruitment company, is calling on the medical research community and pharmaceutical sector to come together to tackle the issue of patient diversity in COVID-19 research and generally across industry.

The company is concerned that the fast pace of COVID-19 research to find treatments and vaccines, combined with long-held, industry-wide challenges of recruiting people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities into clinical trials, means these groups could be ‘missed out’ from research. This is despite BAME groups being at greater risk of dying from the virus.

Kate Shaw, Chief Executive Officer of Innovative Trials, said: “Black people are up to four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who are white, and Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are also at increased risk [1], but we don’t yet fully understand why. This is why it’s imperative to involve these groups in any research testing potential treatments and vaccines. Unfortunately, people from BAME communities are traditionally under-represented in research. We need this to change.”

Read our interview with Kate Shaw discussing the need for diversity in clinical trials.

According to one study, only around five percent of people from BAME groups in the UK who had been surveyed had ever participated in medical research [2]. The reasons behind this are complex, including Issues such as cultural barriers and lack of knowledge of clinical trials [3]. However, without diverse patient representation, it can be difficult to assess how effective treatments are for different groups of people.

Innovative Trials is calling for all those involved in clinical trials — from funders and researchers to drug manufacturers — to come together and implement an integrated approach to tackle this inequality, such as:

designing clinical trials with a focus on patients’ needs, not just treatment outcomes;the research community and pharmaceutical companies working hand-in-hand with BAME communities to increase their understanding of research and participation in clinical trials;a focus on how research can be conducted internationally, particularly in countries where populations are predominately non-white, to ensure a more diverse representation of ethnicity;research funders setting patient diversity ratios where appropriate to ensure a more equal representation of ethnicity in clinical research.

Kate said: “Patient diversity is an issue that the global research community and pharmaceutical sector has struggled with for years. While small steps forward have been taken, there is still more to do. If we’re going to find effective treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 — or any other condition for that matter — we must all work together to make sure clinical trials represent those most at risk. Otherwise we risk developing drugs that may not be effective in some population groups.”

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