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Hannah Drake By Hannah Drake • August 17, 2020

COVID-19 Clinical Trials & Diversity: Are Health Centers The Answer?

We're all patiently - or impatiently - waiting while biopharma companies around the globe put all effort towards developing a vaccine for COVID-19. Some of us worry that fast-tracked vaccine development may mean a less effective vaccine, a vaccine with unintended side effects, or a false sense of security that creates another wave of infection.

And some of us worry about the efficacy of a vaccine when the trial participant demographics are not as diverse as our general population. After all, if the research doesn't include enough members from different races, ages, and sexes, how will we know how well a vaccine truly works?

Kaiser Health News summarized the concern well:

Black and Latino people have been three times as likely as white people to become infected with COVID-19 and twice as likely to die, according to federal data obtained via a lawsuit by The New York Times. Asian Americans appear to account for fewer cases but have higher rates of death. Eight out of 10 COVID deaths reported in the U.S. have been of people ages 65 and older. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that chronic kidney disease is among the top risk factors for severe infection.

Diversity - or the lack of diversity - in clinical research is not a new topic, but it's undoubtedly gaining media attention due to COVID-19 vaccine trials. 

While awareness surrounding an issue is critical, it's not enough. We need to solve it. And to solve it, we have to bring awareness - there's that word again - to the same populations missing from the trials - which doesn't just apply to COVID vaccine trials, but any new therapy in development.

par8o began working with the nation's health centers three years ago on our 340B Referral Capture product. Today, we have over 115 clients across the US. During the past few years, we've gotten to know a lot of the providers directing pharmacy programs, and seeing how different health centers can be in size and personality. The commonality - beyond the populations that they serve - is their dedication to their mission: providing the best care to everyone regardless of insurance or ability to pay. And they do this with a 2% margin - yet they somehow also obtain better outcomes (more information available in the NACHC 2020 chart book).

Health centers serve a more diverse community as compared to the general US population (see illustration). Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 4.01.24 PMBy connecting health centers with clinical research, we can achieve greater health equity as trials will better reflect our population - the people the therapies are meant to help - and pharma companies will have more accurate trials.

However, the approach in any solution that would be workable to a health center is of utmost importance. First and foremost, we must be respectful of past encounters with research - Tuskegee still echoes in the background - and foster trust and respect. Second, a successful approach must have minimal operational burden and no financial outlay.

Given the financial and medical support researchers are willing to offer in exchange for trial participation, par8o believes par8o Research Network answers all of these initiatives.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses across all industries to rethink daily operations and come together in an unprecedented way. Clinical research is not an exception - it's time for change. 

Read more about it in our white paper: How Health Center Involvement in Clinical Trials Improves Health Diversity and Equity Issues.

Learn More About Diversity in Clinical Research and Health Equity