Clinical Trials Feature Almost No Minorities, And That's A Huge Problem

According to a scary new study from the University of California, ethnic minorities are dramatically under-represented in clinical trials. The study, conducted by the university's Comprehensive Cancer Center and published in the journal Cancer, found that less than five percent of participants in clinical studies aren't white.

The statistics are even worse when it comes to cancer clinical trials: less than two percent of clinical studies on cancer focus on non-white minority groups. And of 10,000 clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health, only 150 focused on a specific minority group.

This matters. The American Cancer Society website claims cancer disproportionately affects African-Americans more than any other ethnic group, having the highest death rate and shortest survival for cancer (for example, black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women). In spite of these statistics, however, black and Latino participants make up only 1.3 percent of participants in clinical cancer studies.

But the lack of minority participants isn't the only problem — the way the studies examine (or don't reflect) participants by ethnicity and race is also flawed. In this UC study, researchers also examined 42 studies published between January 2013 and March 2013 in PubMed. They found only five studies that provided data on the racial and ethnic demographics of the participants.

Here's what the study's co-author, Karen Kelly had to say in a press release.

Clinical trials in diverse populations can help us understand the biology of disease, and why a drug may produce a higher response rate and higher toxicity in one group than in another. Moreover by targeting the population most likely to benefit from a novel treatment we can accrue patients more quickly to clinical trials that will lead to faster results.

Still, there was some good news from the the study. Minority representation among children in clinical trials was "excellent," as the press release described it. Fingers crossed, researchers can use this info to examine why minority participation might drop off in clinical trials as the participants get older — and figure out what clinical trials can do to prevent this.