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Addressing Health Inequalities: A Collaborative Approach to Clinical Trials

healthcare inequalities

In the first of a series of features from global human data sciences company IQVIA’s Innovating to Address Health Inequalities summit in London, healthcare leaders discuss how clinical trials help to drive down health inequalities.

Clinical trials play a vital role in advancing medical innovations and treatments, but they have often failed to represent the diverse populations they aim to benefit. This glaring disparity was the catalyst for a groundbreaking roundtable discussion held earlier this year. Led by Dr Suki Balendra, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Paddington Life Sciences and who oversaw the Covid-19 vaccine trial delivery in North West London, and Dr Sheuli Porkess, Vice President of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, the panel organised by global human data science company IQVIA sought to address the pressing issue of underrepresentation and its implications for healthcare. Outlining the recommendations from the roundtable, the panel outlined how delegates from the healthcare sector can shape the future of clinical trials and pharmaceutical medicine.

Unlocking the Power of Collaboration and Unveiling Starling Disparities

The roundtable and panel discussion proved to be a remarkable convergence of minds and a departure from traditional siloed thinking. Dr Balendra emphasised the need to transcend institutional boundaries and foster collaboration with industry partners. By harnessing collective expertise and coproducing ideas, this collaborative approach sought to bridge the gaps in representation and transform the landscape of clinical trials.

“The roundtable report gives the level of actionable details that members can take away.”

Dr Sheuli Porkess, Vice President of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine 

The discussion shed light on the disconcerting statistics surrounding diversity in clinical trials. Despite the rich diversity of the population served by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in North West London, the representation in one vaccine trial was a mere 4%. These numbers underscored the urgent need for change and inspired the participants to contemplate actionable solutions to rectify the situation.

Challenging the Status Quo

Dr Porkess passionately advocated for a departure from the conventional approach, which tends to favor easily accessible and uncomplicated populations for clinical trials. She aptly remarked that people are far more complex than these limited demographics, and the efficacy of medical innovations cannot be accurately gauged if they do not encompass the diverse range of patients who could potentially benefit from them. The panel offered a range of recommendations, focusing on engaging communities, empowering clinical teams, and reforming trial protocols.

Empowering Communities and Clinical Teams

Central to the recommendations was the notion of community engagement. The report stressed the importance of equipping patients with knowledge about research, ensuring they actively inquire about and participate in clinical trials. Similarly, clinical teams were encouraged to proactively offer research opportunities to patients, emphasising the vital role they play in fostering equitable access to trials. This paradigm shift in engaging both communities and clinical teams is crucial to effecting change.

“If we receive trial protocols where, for example, diabetes is an exclusion criteria, you’re cutting out massive swathes of the population that you’re serving.”

Dr Suki Balendra, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Paddington Life Sciences

The panel also underscored the significance of adapting trial protocols to be more inclusive. Exclusion criteria that inadvertently limit participation should be reconsidered to reflect the populations being served. This necessitates a broader perspective and an understanding that diverse representation is not only ethically imperative but also essential for generating meaningful evidence and outcomes.

Charting a New Path Forward

Pharmaceutical medicine, a medical specialty focused on the development and responsible management of medicines, stands to benefit greatly from the panel’s recommendations.

By putting patients and populations first, pharmaceutical medicine aligns with the core principles of the discussion. Pharmaceutical physicians are urged to integrate the recommendations from the roundtable into their practice, from diversifying trial recruitment to advocating for equity and inclusivity within their organisations.

The panel discussion marked a pivotal moment in addressing health inequalities within clinical trials. Its far-reaching impact promises to reshape the landscape of pharmaceutical medicine and revolutionise the way medical innovations are developed and evaluated. By embracing collaboration, engaging communities, empowering clinical teams, and re-evaluating trial protocols, we can move toward a future where healthcare advancements truly serve all individuals, regardless of their background.

Final Thought

The panel discussion on addressing health inequalities in clinical trials was a powerful call to action for the medical and pharmaceutical communities. It highlighted the urgent need to challenge the status quo and prioritise diversity and inclusivity in research. By embracing collaboration, engaging communities, empowering clinical teams, and re-evaluating trial protocols, the panellists advocated a comprehensive roadmap for transforming the landscape of clinical trials.

The impact of this discussion extends beyond the realm of research and into the practice of pharmaceutical medicine itself. The panellist’s recommendations provide a guiding light for pharmaceutical physicians, encouraging them to prioritise patients and populations, champion equity, and ensure that medical innovations are accessible to all.

The significance of this session lies in its ability to stimulate change, not only in the way clinical trials are conducted but also in how healthcare advancements are designed, implemented, and evaluated. It provides a framework for a more inclusive and patient-centered approach to medical research, where the diversity and complexity of individuals are acknowledged and celebrated.

The roundtable discussion has set a precedent for collaborative efforts and inspired a shared commitment to equitable healthcare. Let us embrace this momentum, challenge the norms, and work together to create a future where no one is left behind in the pursuit of better health and wellbeing.

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