Sep 29, 2022 - World

Study: Creating a diversity score could improve medical research

Illustration of people of color with one being examined under a magnifying glass.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Measuring racial and ethnic diversity within medical trials — and requiring a certain threshold to be met for researchers to publish in major journals — could be key to improving research into cancer and other diseases, a recent study found.

The big picture: White non-Hispanics made up 75% of all participants in medical research trials in 2020, the last year for which data is available, an FDA report shows. That means treatments or cures developed through research that largely excludes Latinos and other demographics might not work for them or cause unforeseen side effects.

Details: Two oncologists developed a strategy they call DRIVE, published in August in the journal Blood Avances, that calls for trials to have a diversity officer to monitor if inclusion targets are being reached and for review boards to verify those targets.

  • Under the DRIVE strategy, a trial would get a zero if there is less than 20% representation of all demographic groups affected by the disease being studied, and a score of 5 if that representation reaches 80%.
  • The strategy would require researchers to have a score of 3 before they can present their work at major medical conferences or be published in major journals.

Yes, but: It's not clear whether medical associations and journals will get on board.

Background: The FDA published recommendations in April for companies carrying out trials, suggesting they develop plans to improve diversity and inclusion in their enrollment and present that plan when filing for approval.

  • Several medical associations have also put out policy statements in the past few years encouraging better equity practices.
  • But those are non-binding. New research argues there could be mechanisms that do require a follow-through.
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