Promoting diversity in the patient population and clinical trial workforce are inextricably linked initiatives poised to fuel better clinical trials, more effective drugs, and stronger professional teams, thought leaders at the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) 2022 Conference told attendees this morning (April 24).
“We’ve made significant strides, but the work is not done,” R’Kes Starling, chief executive officer/president at Reveles Clinical Services and chair of the ACRP’s Diversity Advisory Council (DAC) said.
The Covid-19 pandemic raised the profile of the clinical research industry, including highlighting some of the disparities in patient representation, and now’s the time to leverage the new interest to improve the situation, says Maria Florez, research consultant at the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. “We are at a critical juncture, and now it’s time to take these learnings and keep pushing that change forward,” she said.
“What good is a drug if it hasn’t been tested by a broad population,” said Nadege Gunn, medical director, Impact Research Institute. She stressed the importance of having a diverse population at the table developing protocols, and for the clinical trial industry to do more to “meet people where they are.”
“We can’t continue to present society with treatments that haven’t been tested by a broad population,” said Rick Fisher, senior director of operations at Velocity Clinical Research. Among other initiatives, he called on sites to put up new locations to serve new populations and underserved areas.
The pandemic showed “if we come together, we can do some pretty amazing things,” said Samson Tom, vice president/Kelly Science and Clinical. “It is great people are talking about promoting diversity, but we need to focus on and encourage those who are taking action.”
Go back to your own organizations after the ACRP conference and look for ways to make a difference, said Julia Medina, clinical operations lead/Genentech. Ask yourself “am I doing enough? Am I reaching out enough?” to improve diversity levels, she suggested.
“Today you should expect your employer to promote diversity and support it with training” and other initiatives, said Carlette Heath-Brogden, clinical trial diversity lead/Merck. “You should feel comfortable speaking out” to call for and support increased diversity in both workforce and patient populations, she added.
“We need to hold each other accountable,” Gunn said. “Make sure you are doing all you can at your organization,” she said. Another good idea: “look to people who have effectively promoted diversity and ask them how they did it,” she said.
Mentorships emerged as a strong tool to advance workforce diversity; speakers agreed. “Our surveys have found mentorships are an important way for people to first learn about clinical research” as a potential career, Florez said.
However, studies also show Caucasian populations tend to have more access to mentorship programs, she noted. Mentorship programs must be available to far wider swaths of the population, speakers stressed. “From a recruitment perspective mentor programs are very important, and we have to make it easy for more people to get involved in clinical research,” Florez said.
Calling it a “key action item,” Tom urged attendees to “go back to your organizations after the ACRP conference and become a mentor. That’s how you get the critical mass, you have to build it from somewhere.”
Medina shared firsthand knowledge of how mentorship programs can have positive impact. “I went from [an] admin [post] to clinical operations in three years thanks to my mentor,” she said. “If sponsors and contract research organizations are serious about helping people grow their careers, they must” foster internal mentor programs, she said.
Speakers also addressed the importance distinction between diversity and inclusion programs. “Diversity is about attraction candidates, inclusion is about retaining them,” said Tom. He’s a big proponent of promoting diversity to give teams a hybrid vigor, rather than downplaying differences and hewing to a single opinion or viewpoint.
“One of the key elements of high performing teams is encouraging a diversity mindset” and recognizing differences can “complement each other,” Tom said.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of progress in part because of the pandemic, but everyone has to be part of these conversations together” if we want to take diversity to the next level, Fisher said.
Like many big challenges, success begins in the mind, Tom said. “It starts with believing it can be done,” he said.
Author: Michael Causey