Indiana News

Medical Research Conundrum: Recruiting Minorities for Clinical Trials

Lilly Exec: Drug Company Seeking Diversity, But Patients Hard to Find

10/5/2012

Getting a good test of an experimental drug requires a representative cross-section of patients. And a leader in Eli Lilly's clinical trials division says that will take more minority physicians.

Coleman Obasaju says you can't assume a drug will affect everyone equally. He says there's been a lot of progress toward recognizing and addressing that fact -- he recalls a cancer-drug trial soon after he joined Lilly 11 years ago, in which 93% of the patients were white. But Obasaju told an Indianapolis gathering of black legislators from across the U.S. that even conscious efforts to recruit minority subjects have difficulty finding enough.

Obasaju says studies show minority researchers are better able to recruit minority patients. But African-American researchers are in short supply as well. The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Education says 40% of African-American doctors come from historically black colleges and universities. And president Lezli Baskerville says the top six research universities receive more research funding than the top 79 HBCU's.

Calbert Laing with the National Institutes of Health says many professors at historically black colleges are too busy with teaching responsibilities to lead studies themselves. Without a strong body of research, Laing says, they're highly unlikely to land NIH grants to conduct more. Laing and Baskerville agree those schools need to raise more research funding to improve their chances.

And Laing says schools need to start early in encouraging even elementary school students to take an interest in science.

The National Black Caucus of State Legislators conducts a minority-health conference in Indianapolis each year, in conjunction with the Circle City Classic football game showcasing HBCU's.

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