What can drug companies do to combat racial disparities?
In light of the disproportionate toll COVID-19 has taken on ethnic minorities in the United States and elsewhere, public health authorities are making it a top priority to address racial disparities in healthcare provision and medical science. In an insightful new commentary for Politico, Tim Garnett, chief medical officer of Eli Lilly and Company, and Joy Fitzgerald, Lilly’s chief diversity officer, outline four major proposals for ways to begin correcting these differences, the result of historic inequities.
- Citing CDC data, the authors note that ethnic minorities are three times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to become infected with the novel coronavirus, and twice as likely to die from it. A big part of the solution is to make sure that minority groups are adequately represented in clinical trials. In fact, “Minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population but less than 20 percent of participants in the key clinical trials that lead to the approval of new medicines, according to a 2015 study.” Thus the “pharmaceutical industry must do a better job enrolling minorities in those clinical trials,” the authors argue.
- What are the proposed solutions? First: “Locate clinical trials closer to patients’ homes. Clinical trial sites for the Covid-19 therapies should operate in cities with large populations of minorities disproportionally affected by the disease: New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Detroit and Houston, among others.”
- Second: “Use more virtual visits. Clinical trial check-ins via video chat can reduce time and travel burdens for patients.”
- Third: “Collect less data. Clinical trials often involve many diagnostic tests and data collections from participants, in the hopes that these will be useful in some way. They rarely are, but the extensive testing creates a barrier to many people participating in trials. Instead, we should focus trials to gather only the data needed to thoroughly meet our scientific objectives.”
- Fourth: “Reduce eligibility requirements. The ideal way to study the impact of a medicine is to give it to patients with no other illnesses than the one being tested. So pharmaceutical companies often exclude patients that have additional conditions. This can disproportionally exclude minorities, who have multiple health conditions at higher rates than whites.”