Dr. Edith Perez Headshot
Dr. Edith Perez

Lack of access and mistrust often keep diverse patients from participating in clinical trials. Nonprofit group Stand Up To Cancer wants to change that.

Going forward, any research that receives a Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) grant will need to submit a plan to recruit diverse patients. The nonprofit hopes including more minorities in cancer clinical trials will help reduce health disparities. Its Committee for Health Equity in Cancer Clinical Trials is also working to educate these populations about clinical trials.

According to a 2018 Food and Drug Administration report, cancer clinical trials were still mostly white; only 4% of patients were Black, 4% were Hispanic and 15% were Asian.

“As minority populations differ in terms of their genetic makeup, their reactions to these drugs are also handled differently,” said Dr. Edith Perez, chair of the Committee for Health Equity in Cancer Clinical Trials. “If these populations aren’t included in clinical trials and research, the full impact of drugs are not truly known. We have to incorporate diversity into our research if we’re going to be able to treat people and design treatments with specific populations in mind.”

Perez, who is also a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, said that educating these communities is imperative to increasing diversity in cancer trials. There is a lot of misinformation about trials among these patient populations that may be deterring participants.

“Due to the lack of information, distrust in a system that minority populations haven’t always understood and the perception that it’s expensive to participate in clinical trials, minority populations are fearful in general,” Perez explained. “Increased education around clinical trials and how patients can learn, understand and navigate this system will play a huge role in addressing lack of enrollment, especially in diverse and minority populations.”

Patient confusion about the cost of clinical trials, or simply the lack of access to them, is a significant barrier. Often there are no sites near these communities and finding transportation can prevent people from participating.

The nonprofit is also calling on researchers in cancer and other areas to share evidence about recruiting diverse patients. Combining forces will help “address the barriers of health equity in an actionable way,” Perez said.

Beyond the requirements for researchers, SU2C is working with other nonprofit groups, like the Black Women’s Health Imperative and Friends of Cancer Research, to reach out to communities and educate them about clinical trials. 

“In order to really increase diversity in clinical trials, we need to go into the communities,” she said. “[The Black Women’s Health Imperative and Friends of Cancer Research] were just given a grant to train black women directly in their communities so they’re aware of clinical trial issues. It’s critical that we also drive education efforts around communities so patients can understand exactly what’s being offered to them.”