Pharmaceutical researchers are turning to technology to broaden access to experimental treatments, and make clinical trials more equitable in terms of their inclusion of minorities
Minorities are often underrepresented as participants in studies of new drugs—leaving them with less access to new, potentially lifesaving drugs, and making scientists less aware of how medicines affect people of various races differently. One reason is minority groups, because of abuses in the past, sometimes distrust the medical system. Minorities also can lack the resources needed to travel or fulfill other requirements to be able to participate in drug trials.
Now new technology platforms are making it possible for researchers to draw on more diverse pools of participants in terms of race, age and geography. Tools such as wearable devices and telemedicine enable patients to participate in studies from their homes. In addition, researchers are able to mine electronic health records to discover patients who qualify for clinical trials but who might not have been offered the opportunity in the past.
“If there was one easy answer, we would have fixed it by now,” says Dr. Ankit Kansagra, assistant professor of Medicine and Eugene P. Frenkel M.D. scholar of clinical medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “A holistic approach is needed. Technology is an extremely important piece.”
Racial and other disparities currently exist across various types of clinical trials. A February study of U.S.-based infectious-disease vaccine trials in JAMA Network Open found underrepresentation of minorities, including Black and Hispanic people, and older adults. A paper in the Journal of the American Heart Association last year concluded that women and minorities, especially African-Americans, are underrepresented in clinical trials of novel cardiometabolic drugs. A study published in JAMA Oncology in 2019, meanwhile, said that race wasn’t reported in more than one-third of 230 cancer-drug trials studied, and that among trials that did report race, Black and Hispanic representation was low relative to their proportion among U.S. cancer patients compared with whites.
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