Big Pharma partners join initiative to drive equity and inclusion in digital trials
As digital trials picked up steam amid the pandemic, some said the technology could also be used to address biopharma’s historic lack of diversity in the clinic. But if implemented the wrong way, it could also exacerbate the problem, the Digital Medicine Society (DiMe) warns.
That’s why DiMe is looking to create a framework and resources for successfully running digital trials. And a suite of industry players — including Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline — are joining the new initiative.
“We’re at a really important juncture as we think about the digitization of healthcare,” DiMe CEO Jennifer Goldsack told Endpoints News. “What we’re committed to, along with our partners, is making sure that we capture this opportunity and we provide resources not just for participating partners, but for the entire field that are action-oriented and ensure that as we go digital, we bring more patients with us.”
The initiative is what DiMe calls a “Tour of Duty,” in which the organization spends four to six weeks addressing a pressing challenge in the field. The goal? To emerge with resources for the industry, ranging from checklists to new guidance.
Over the past couple years, the pandemic has cast a harsh spotlight on biopharma’s diversity problem. Of the 53 drugs approved in 2020, Black participants represented just 8% of participants in the trials regulators based their decisions on. Latinx patients represented just above 12% of participants, and Asian patients just above 6%.
Some have said that virtual trials could help bridge the gap in representation — but while that may be a good option for some patients, it excludes everyone who doesn’t have access to the technology or to broadband.
“Now is the time to ensure trial planning is mindful of the potential of technology as a barrier to participation by positioning digital health technologies for greater trust, use, and impact,” said Pamela Tenaerts, CSO at digital trial-focused Medable (which is also joining the initiative), in a news release.
Upon snagging a $91 million Series C round back in 2020, Medable told Endpoints that customers using its virtual trial platform reported faster patient enrollment and increased retention rates.
“Clinical trials are a significant part of the process for developing medicines. Yet, for too long, trials have lacked diversity with underrepresentation of certain groups of people across many diseases,” said Ponda Motsepe-Ditshego, VP, global medical therapeutic area head, and leader of Amgen’s Representation in Clinical Research (RISE) team, in the news release. “Having the means to engage these populations via new technologies helps us move towards a future where they are no longer underrepresented, understudied, and undertreated.”
In addition to Amgen, GSK and Medable, a slate of other industry players have joined the initiative, including Acclinate, Lightship, Rubix LS, Sage Bionetworks, Savvy Cooperative, and THREAD Research.
“In order to say we’re going to do this better than we have before, we have a responsibility … to bring everyone to the table and to deeply understand how these new products work in everybody,” Goldsack said.