2016: The Year of Diversity in Clinical Trials

Controlled clinical trials provide a critical base of evidence for evaluating whether a medical product is effective before the product is approved for marketing. One challenge that remains for FDA is ensuring that research participants are representative of the patients who will use the medical product.

Moving from the result of a clinical trial to applying it in practice is complex. But it’s generally agreed that the composition of the population enrolled in a trial should help FDA reviewers, clinicians, or policy makers to have confidence that the trial results will apply to future practice.

Furthermore, a wide range of people should have the opportunity to participate in trials, both for access to new therapies and to have the chance to contribute to better treatment of everyone, an important altruistic goal for many Americans.

Historically, the elderly, women (in some therapeutic areas), and racial/ethnic minorities have been underrepresented in trials. A substantial body of literature has documented this under-representation in recent years, particularly for women in some cardiovascular trials and general inclusion of black/African-American and minority participants in clinical trials. In response to these concerns, Congress included Section 907 in the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) of 2012, giving FDA direction to evaluate this issue and take action.

FDA has responded in multiple ways, including the creation of Drug Trials Snapshots that give the public readouts of the demographic profile of people participating in clinical trials for approved drugs. While progress has been made, we’ve learned from this program that we still have work to do. An evaluation of the Snapshots since the program began more than a year ago shows that some groups, especially ethnic and racial groups, aren’t always well represented in clinical trials.

These data are critical, because certain groups of patients may respond differently to therapies. For example, studies for a recently approved schizophrenia drug found that one side effect – the urge to move constantly – was seen more often in black/African-American patients. Two important classes of blood pressure drugs were found to work less well in black patients. And a drug for heart failure works very well in black patients but not in white patients. We also have seen labeling changes due to differences in dosing requirements between men and women, such as the recent labeling change with a sleep medication. These few examples show the importance of improving diversity in clinical trials, so medical products are safe and effective for everyone.

Increasing diversity in clinical trials is a priority for FDA. To that end, in 2016, the Agency is planning a variety of activities to push for greater inclusion, including more minority participation.

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