Improving inclusivity and diversity in medical research and care is a frequent topic of discussion among life science professionals. However, gaps in representation still exist, and proactive researchers, pharma companies, care providers, and other stakeholders remain on the case looking for ways to improve across the industry.
The Diversity in Oncology series—borne from a partnership between GRYT Health and Bristol Myers Squibb—seeks to shine a light on inequities in cancer care and research. It brings together patients, doctors, researchers, and other figures to lend their unique insight into the issue.
The next virtual Diversity in Oncology session is scheduled February 9 at 4 pm EST. Entitled Improving Representation of Diversity in Clinical Trials Through Academia and Community Collaboration, this discussion will be led by a group of noted experts in the field:
- Edith Mitchell, clinical professor at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University
- Carolyn Fang, associate director of population science with the Fox Chase Cancer Center
- Matthew Kulke, co-director of the Boston University/Boston Medical Center Cancer Center
- Ruben Mesa, executive director of the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio
Outsourcing-Pharma connected with Kevin Beckford, senior vice president and chief people and compliance officer with GRYT Health, to discuss challenges associated with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in cancer care, the Diversity in Oncology Series, and the February 9 focus.
OSP: What do you think are some of the missed opportunities or missteps that various stakeholders (sponsors, clinical research sites, regulators, academics, etc) might be making at this point?
KB: I believe one key missed opportunity is the lack of meaningful and authentic relationships between stakeholders and the underserved/marginalized community. Another is the impact segregation has had on building an authentic trust-based relationship.
OSP: Could you please share your thoughts on potential solutions to narrowing the gaps in representation?
KB: Because some of the key barriers to building an authentic and trusting relationship are structural in nature, there is no easy solution. That said, I believe bringing the communities together in both practical and meaningful ways will start to foster trust; trust we can build upon. Stakeholders will have to demonstrate to the community a sincere commitment to wanting true equality for all Humans.
OSP: Specifically, how can we use tools like patient engagement, community engagement, industry partnerships, and others to improve health disparities?
KB: It's a complex problem so it will require a complex solution. One first step is for stakeholders to collaborate with community-based organizations and systems. In my humble view, these stakeholder-community partnerships should be centered around understanding and solving core inequities. Partnerships that are both strategic but practical; sharing both human capital and financial resources.
OSP: Could you please tell us a bit about the Diversity in Oncology series, and the Feb 9 panel?
KB: Our Diversity in Oncology series discussions are designed to be cross-stakeholder, cross-cultural conversations where real conversations can take place around how to make clinical trials more inclusive to populations that are underrepresented. While framed as session discussions, Diversity in Oncology promotes action towards making these changes in practical ways, framed in ways from expert speakers who participate.
Our February 9 session will have a large focus on collaboration, specifically around academic medical centers and the range of collaboration that is happening today. Aspects around improving collaboration as an action item to discuss will be an outcome.
OSP: Is there anything you would like to add?
KB: I am so excited for the opportunity for us to go beyond performative discussions about the inequities within the healthcare system. I feel the time is right to begin to have those uncomfortable conversations around “why" we have allowed systemic inequities to exist for so long.
It is vital we go back to the basics of understanding our shared and connected destiny; simply put, we cannot diminish another's humanity without diminishing our own. le the FDA, industry sponsors, academia, and others have taken important steps to address challenges in clinical trial diversity, progress has been limited. Patient and community engagement, partnerships, and collaborations play crucial roles in overcoming barriers to clinical trials to help improve health disparities.