The university provided an update on its measures that have been introduced over the last few years, with the aim of ‘righting a historical wrong.’ This is referring to the health disparity that sees people in Black, Hispanic, and other minoritized groups be underrepresented in clinical trials.
The three programs launched by Columbia are: the National Cancer Institute (NCI)’s Minority and Underserved Community Oncology Research Program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC), the multicenter Stand Up to Cancer Health Equity Initiative, and the Columbia-Pfizer Clinical Trials Diversity Initiative. Colombia added that individuals departments and centers have also contributed outside of these efforts.
Each program is designed to lower barriers that prevent people in underrepresented groups from enrolling in clinical trials, with efforts extending to practical issues, such as cost and ease of access.
Columbia provided an update on some of the signs of progress seen due to the undertaking of these initiatives – though it noted that it was still too early to judge the success of the various efforts, but added that “the first signs are promising.”
As a result of the initiatives, the university outlined that 40 clinicians and researchers participated in the first round of the training program to increase diversity in trials – higher than had been expected.
Moshe Kelsen, executive director of administration at the HICCC, also stated that minority participation in clinical trials is now over 40%, “roughly double the national average.”
“From the health care system and industry side, there hasn’t always been a concerted effort to design broadly representative trials or to support outreach efforts towards all patients affected by diseases we study,” stated Kelsen. “We’re not just developing plans and pushing them out into the community. We’re listening to their priorities and asking them what kinds of trials they are interested in.”
In terms of broader movement across the industry, the university also noted that Pfizer’s decision to work with Colombia on the diversity effort had led to expression of interest by other pharma companies to do the same.
The collaboration between Columbia University and Pfizer was established in 2021, with the latter company providing a three-year, $10m grant to help establish and expand the initiative. The partnership allowed Columbia to expand its ‘Community Health Workers Program’ network to connect underserved populations, and to create ‘culturally sensitive engagement tools’.
In terms of the additional two initiatives, the NCI’s program offers local residents in a predominantly minority neighborhood access to clinical trials. The clinical trials also include ongoing monitoring and ‘better healthcare’, and the program forms part of a $93m (€84m) effort to ensure that all population groups are represented in cancer research.
The Stand Up To Cancer initiative saw a team of lung cancer researchers at Columbia receive a $1m grant to bring technology-enabled immunotherapy monitoring to underrepresented patient populations.