Why diversity in clinical trials is essential to the future of UK life sciences
Becoming a world leader in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is essential if the UK life sciences sector wants to set itself apart from its competitors – particularly in the area of clinical trials. That is the finding of a new report from MedCity, the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
Despite the UK playing a leading role in COVID-19 vaccine development and continuing to pioneer cutting edge cell and gene therapies, our life sciences sector is increasingly under threat. There has been a 41% decline in the number of clinical trials initiated in the UK between 2017 and 2021, and pharmaceutical companies are scaling back their UK investments. But by amplifying our ability to deliver inclusive trials, and strengthening this unique selling point (USP), it is hoped this trend can be reversed.
On 8 February, MedCity, the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine and the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, brought together leading voices from across the pharmaceuticals, life sciences and health sectors to discuss EDI in clinical trials. Collective recommendations were made and these can be accessed in the report.
“This important roundtable discussion brought together wide expertise and understanding of why clinical trials are routinely not diverse and ways to move forward. Together we want to see the UK lead the world in delivering diverse and inclusive clinical trials that ensure future treatments benefit all.”
Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research, Diabetes UK
The report highlights three reasons why incorporating EDI is essential in clinical trials.
- It leads to improved health for all communities, as UK clinical trials often fail to reflect the full diversity of the population.
- It produces more robust data demonstrating more clearly either the universal benefit of a drug or treatment, or its differential effect in different communities.
- It creates jobs, boosts local economies, and supports the life sciences sector as a key strategic pillar in the UK economy.
In order to embed EDI in clinical trials, the report calls for action at all levels of the life sciences research ecosystem, from funders and regulators, through companies and research teams, to individual researchers and into communities. It lays out specific recommendations to foster a clinical research culture in which EDI is the default.
“This uniquely collaborative call to action brought together crucial insights from different perspectives demonstrating what we can do when the research ecosystem is laser focused. The lack of diversity in clinical trials is a significant limitation to research impact which can only be overcome with bold action from all stakeholders”
Christiana Dinah, Director – Research and Development, London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust
Recommendations include embedding EDI in review and approval processes for clinical trials; a greater recognition of the commercial benefit of diversity in clinical trials, in order to fully close the gap between commercial and clinical priorities; and for measures which support increased diversity among the clinicians and research teams who design and implement studies. This can have a profound impact on the diversity of those studies.
“We were delighted to attend the roundtable, which provided a valuable opportunity to highlight how we all benefit from a diverse and inclusive clinical trials ecosystem.
We also welcome the recommendations in the report, which will help us take forward our work to increase the diversity of participants in clinical trials. Health and social care research should be done with and for everyone and this is a guiding principle of our strategy.”
Naho Yamazaki, Deputy Director of Policy and Partnerships at the Health Research Authority
The need for EDI as a USP is even more critical today considering the most recent budget, where the government announced that the MHRA will move towards a model of ‘near automatic’ approval of medicines approved by trusted regulators – that means European, US or Japanese regulators. This would further lower the need for UK data and therefore make trials less attractive.
“The UK has all the ingredients to deliver the most inclusive trials in the world, and EDI is an essential part of making UK life sciences stronger. It builds trust, it benefits the health of people from a wider range of communities, and it makes financial sense. It’s good for everyone.”
Neelam Patel, CEO, MedCity
Read the full report and recommendations to understand how EDI can help the UK re-establish its global leadership in clinical trials, and ensure more patients can access the best treatments.