NIH Affirms Importance of Diversity in Clinical Trial Workforce

Illustration of Diverse People

NIH Official: Essential to Have Diversity Among Those Who Design, Recruit, Participate in Clinical Trials

Biomedical workforce diversity is critical to advancing clinical trial participation among underserved populations and improving the scientific quality of data for everyone, the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Dr. Marie Bernard, chief officer for workforce diversity, told attendees of a “Diversity & Inclusion Summit” sponsored by The Hill newspaper on October 14, 2021.

“At every step of the way, it’s important to have that diversity,” said Dr. Bernard, “from the very beginning of coming up with the research study” through the entire clinical trial process. “There’s no question that having diverse scientists at the table brings broader and necessary perspectives” to clinical research, she noted.

Promoting that workforce diversity is key to expanding the reach of clinical trials, too. “People like to interact with someone they see as being like themselves,” Dr. Bernard said. People are more likely to join and remain engaged in a clinical trial if they are working with “someone who understands [their] cultural mores,” she added. Diversifying the clinical trial workforce will go a long way toward reaffirming trust in the enterprise among minority populations who have had negative historical experiences with trials, she explained.

Reminding attendees that the COVID-19 pandemic “disproportionally” impacted “communities of color,” including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Alaskan natives, Dr. Bernard said that reality “made us really examine what we were doing” to promote wider clinical trial participation. As part of that effort, NIH in February 2020 launched the UNITE program, an initiative established to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community.

With representation from across the NIH Institutes and Centers, UNITE aims to establish an equitable and civil culture within the biomedical research enterprise, and to reduce barriers to racial equity in the biomedical research workforce. To reach this goal, UNITE is facilitating research to identify opportunities, make recommendations, and develop and implement strategies to increase inclusivity and diversity in science. These efforts will bolster the NIH’s effort to continue to strive for diversity within the scientific workforce and racial equity on the NIH campus and within the extramural community, NIH said in a statement launching the initiative.

COVID-19 “has further magnified [the reality that] you must have these diverse perspectives working with [local] communities” to spread the positive news about the importance and value of clinical trials to help advance cures to prolong life and alleviate suffering to more people, Dr. Bernard said. She also reminded attendees that diverse patient populations generate more valuable and effective treatment data. For example, Alzheimer’s disease can have different types of medical impacts on different racial groups, just as some of the differences in biology among men and women mean some treatments will work for some and not others.

“It’s essential to have diversity among those who design, recruit, and participate in clinical trials” to ensure medicines and treatments are developed to treat the widest possible patient populations, Dr. Bernard said.

Author: Michael Causey