US regulatory agency makes ‘big change’ to increase the number of participants from under-represented groups in drug testing.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon require researchers and companies seeking approval for late-stage clinical trials to submit a plan for ensuring diversity among trial participants.
It is well known men and women can react differently to pharmacological agents. Sometimes the differences can have serious side effects, even resulting in death. So when a clinician reads a paper about the positive propertied results from the use of a trial agent it is vital they know information about the research participants. In addition to gender, this includes age, race, disability and general health. So, this move by the FDA in the United States, is to be congratulated. Regulators in other jurisdictions should consider similar moves.
Nonetheless, “this is the biggest change in the regulatory landscape for clinical-trial diversity in the last three decades”, says Thomas Hwang, a physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, who has expertise in pharmaceutical regulation1.
The diversity requirement arrives in the wake of a 2022 report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which found that, although the representation of white women in clinical trials has improved, progress has “largely stalled” for minority racial and ethnic groups. Older adults, pregnant people and individuals with disabilities remain severely under-represented — and, in some cases, excluded — from US clinical research, the report found. For example, a recent analysis of new cancer therapeutics approved by the FDA between 2012 and 2017 found that 79% of the clinical trials that were used to support the FDA’s decisions adequately represented women — but only 27% adequately represented older adults, and only 11% met the bar for minority racial and ethnic groups2. (In this case, ‘adequately represented’ means that the percentage of, say, women enrolled in a cancer trial approximately matches the proportion of women in the United States who have that type of cancer.)