How diversity within pharma can make the world a healthier place

Diversity within clinical trials starts with their design and execution

As the CEO of a company that runs clinical trials for pharmaceutical firms to develop eye care products, the importance of a diverse workforce is not lost on our team.

The benefits of diverse workforces, as set out by DiversityQ, are well-documented. But the significance of this is even more pronounced in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, where I believe diversity within organisations can literally help make the world a healthier place.

This is because the diversity of participants is critically important to the robustness of a clinical trial and to create a framework of necessary data to understand how a drug or treatment works across different populations.

Achieving diversity in a clinical trial population starts with the design and execution of the trial. We must be proactive in our thought process to ensure trials are designed in an inclusive manner. Things that might work well for certain populations will not work for others in a clinical trial. They, therefore, need to be accessible, understandable and relatable across those different populations.

Yet a recent congressionally mandated report assessing clinical trials in the US found a “lack of representation in research is compounding disparities in health outcomes, with serious consequences for underrepresented groups and the as a whole”.

Further, a recent piece by DiversityQ also highlighted the global nature of this issue, with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) having found in 2020 that of nearly 300,000 participants in clinical trials globally, 76% were white.

It’s an area where companies in the pharma and healthcare sectors need to continue to focus. As a minimum requirement, every clinical trial should be proactively designed to look at the effect of a drug on as many ethnic groups, age ranges and socio-economic groups as possible.

To achieve better representation and results, there are many practical measures companies can take to make the trial experience as inclusive as possible. But to truly embed diversity in clinical trials, organisations across the world need to look closer to home and recognise this starts with diversity in their workforces.

The reason is simple: employing different people from diverse backgrounds will offer unique and different perspectives, which feed into how clinical trials are designed and executed to suit a diverse group of participants.

Diverse hiring has been a priority at my company, Lexitas. We’re trying our hardest to ensure trials are representative of the population, and we need a broad spectrum of viewpoints and ideas within the company to ensure that happens.

One of our initiatives sees most new hires come from referrals from various places in the company. With employees recommending different people from diverse backgrounds, it has provided incredible talent and fresh insights.

The pandemic, and the introduction of remote working and decentralised trials, also offered an opportunity. Whereas before, we had hired mainly people from the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina, where our office is, hiring remotely makes our workforce more diverse by default as we employ people across geographic locations. A project director who lives in Denver, Colorado, naturally brings different life experiences than someone in the American Southeast where Lexitas is based.

This approach means our workforce can see the cultural nuances across different populations, allowing us to organise the logistics of a trial in the most inclusive manner possible. This comes as a result of having a diverse workforce. And it’s an approach that pays off in spades because the quality of our product – clinical trials – is so much better.

It’s such a simple approach, but one which can really make the world a healthier place if adopted by those in the clinical trial space because treatments will be better across the board. After all, better patient outcomes, for all, are the bottom line in drug discovery. The price of exclusion in trials is too high.

Dr George Magrath is CEO of Lexitas, a 160-person company which helps pharmaceutical firms develop novel eye care drugs by running clinical trials.

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