Outreach Vital to Advancing Clinical Trial Diversity

Valerie Rice

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and CEO, Morehouse School of Medicine

The clinical trial industry must be proactive and transparent in its communications with underserved communities with less access to healthcare resources and a wariness about participating in medical research, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and CEO of Morehouse School of Medicine, told attendees of an event sponsored July 11 by The Washington Post.

Morehouse School received a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and used some of those funds to “immediately go out to the community and form partnerships with grassroots organizations that would build trust between us and the community so that people would go get tested” for the COVID-19 virus, Rice said.

“We then partnered with many agencies to make sure that we could address some of the social determinants of health, including making sure that people would have access to testing, transportation to testing, [and] that when they got to the emergency room they would be treated adequately,” she added.

Her organization, along with BlackDoctors.org and Black Doctors Against Covid, also presented multiple webinars that reached tens of thousands online. “We were just answering questions. We dealt with the concerns that people had about trust with the health system, and we dealt with the Tuskegee issues and the [history of] Henrietta Lacks, and we were sensitive to people’s concerns,” Rice said.

The results? “We got a lot of participation, I think because we were transparent with people about what we didn’t know, and we made sure that we were inclusive in our messaging and inclusive in our understanding of their concerns,” she noted. “I think that that has resonated with people because at Morehouse School of Medicine we did not have any challenges with enrolling persons in the clinical trials.”

Taking a look from the global perspective, panelist Dr. Michael Makanga, executive director of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCCTP), lamented the fact that fewer than 3% of clinical trials take place on the African continent.

“The problem behind this is multifaceted,” he said. “One, of course, is that most of the diseases that affect Africa are diseases that may have limited market value in terms of the pharmaceutical companies, or companies that are involved in product development. Secondly, product development requires money—investment from the public and from the private [sectors]—but it also requires the right infrastructure and human workforce to be able to take this forward, and the willingness and political support from the countries where this is done.”

Fortunately, over the last 10 to 20 years, the number of clinical trials on the continent has grown through the involvement of partnerships and initiatives like the EDCCTP and others that are investing in research and development, Makanga said.

Author: Michael Causey