Online healthcare company Ro is partnering with the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) to help bolster diversity in clinical trials, with a focus on Alzheimer’s research.

The collaboration will create the Registry for Equal Access to Clinical Trials in Alzheimer’s Disease, where Ro will help recruit diverse patients with a higher risk of the disease.

The hope is that Ro’s telehealth platform will make it easier for people to get through each step of the clinical trial process, from recruitment and screening to assessment, either at home or where they feel most comfortable.

Dr. Lauren Broffman, director of clinic research at Ro, noted the partnership with NIA senior investigator Dr. Madhav Thambisetty reflects a shared public-private interest in advancing new patient-centric clinical research strategies.

“Together, we recognized the potential to use Ro’s vertically-integrated platform to proactively identify and remotely screen patients for a new registry of participants,” Broffman explained.

Like in most chronic conditions, racial and ethnic minorities have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but they are underrepresented in clinical research.

Bolstering this patient group’s participation is important to the patient to ensure they get access to the most cutting-edge therapies. It’s also critical for public health as a whole in order to discover the efficacy of treatments in a representative population, Broffman noted.

Through the partnership, Ro plans to conduct outreach to eligible patients and get them screened in the NIA’s new registry – prioritizing those who have historically been underrepresented. Patients then complete surveys and a cognitive assessment through Ro’s platform.

“This is different from previous NIA recruitment methods, as Ro can source patients from our large, diverse population and conduct this screening process remotely – without patients having to make a trip to a research facility,” Broffman said.

Improving clinical trial diversity has been one of the major focuses in the healthcare industry of late, with several companies launching initiatives to increase the number of people from marginalized communities enrolled in trials.

Last year, Abbott announced it would work to boost diversity in clinical trials by funding scholarships and bringing leaders together on an advisory board. Others, like Bristol-Myers Squibb, have crafted partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities to diversify talent in the biopharma industry, as well as enrollment in clinical trials.

Most recently, the Association of Clinical Research Organizations released a statement outlining its efforts to do the same.

But even with the recognition of the need increasing, clinical trial diversity is still lagging. 

A recent report from the Committee on Improving Representation of Women and Underrepresented Minorities in Clinical Trials and Research highlighted “critical shortcomings” in current clinical trials.

“While progress has been made with the representation of white women in clinical trials and clinical research, there has been little progress in the last three decades to increase participation of racial and ethnic minority population groups,” the authors wrote. 

Ro’s partnership with NIH reflects the need for more public-private partnerships in the world of clinical trials to tackle this issue, Broffman said, and telehealth companies in particular can take advantage of their platforms to do so.

“Ro and other telehealth platforms can make it easier and more convenient for patients at various stages of clinical research–from outreach to eligible patients to screening and trial operations,” Broffman said.