Skip to main content

PM 360

September 8, 2023

Since 2020, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has been a prime area of attention within healthcare and the life sciences. For one, the pandemic put a spotlight on the disparity within clinical trials—in 2020 the FDA found that 75% of trial participants were white, 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, and 6% were Asian. Furthermore, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement at the time forced organizations in all industries to take a closer look at their DE&I efforts and inspired some to do better and go beyond attempts that often only paid lip service to improving diversity.

Inequity within healthcare overall has been a long-standing issue in need of solutions. Just some of the statistics found by KFF analysis include: American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) and Black people had a shorter life expectancy at birth (65.2 and 70.8 years, respectively) compared to White people (76.4) as of 2021, Black infants were more than two times as likely to die as white infants as of 2021, and the age-adjusted mortality rates for diabetes in 2021 for AIAN, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander (NHOPI), and Black people were twice as high as the rate for white people.

As life sciences companies look for ways to improve DE&I both within their organizations and in healthcare as a whole, PM360 turned to 10 experts in the space to ask them how. Specifically, we wanted to know:

  • What steps should companies within the life sciences industry take to make a greater impact in improving diversity and health equity in areas including clinical trials, drug development, diagnosis, access to medication, marketing, data analysis, health literacy, etc.? What is the most important thing companies can do to make the biggest impact?
  • What organizational changes do companies have to make to ensure they are better equipped to recognize the areas where they are failing to properly reach underserved groups?
  • How can companies gain a better understanding into the needs of underrepresented and underserved groups to develop programs, approaches, products, strategies, etc. that address the issues and social determinants most impacting their healthcare? In your work in this area, what have you found to be the most surprising need of a specific group that the industry has not been addressing?
  • What partnerships can companies form outside of their organizations to help boost health equity more broadly across the healthcare ecosystem? Do you have any examples of unique partnerships that are making significant progress? What have been the keys to these partnerships’ success?


Natalia Ledo Husby
Business Development Manager

Increasing diversity in clinical trials is not a one-solution problem. It requires investment, innovation, and community building. However, companies can take some concrete actions right now to create a culture that fosters diversity and health equity.

1. Educate all employees about the importance of diversity in clinical trials and potential barriers that contribute to unequal access. Many people think they understand but if they have never been in the shoes of someone who has experienced a history of injustice, it can be difficult to fully comprehend. One good resource is the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).

2. Evaluate existing and new protocols to see if they make it needlessly difficult for historically underrepresented groups to participate in the trial. Prioritize accessibility in all protocol designs and, at the same time, create an action plan to proactively engage with underrepresented communities. Educate them about the importance of clinical trials and encourage informed participation.

3. Leverage today’s novel recruitment strategies including social media outreach and AI-based recruitment. Partner with local community organizations and leaders, pharmacies, and healthcare clinics that have the trust of their patients. Also, ensure all trial materials are comprehensible for people with varying degrees of health literacy and/or language proficiency.

Population representation in trials is a thorny problem to solve, especially for early-stage life sciences and digital therapeutics companies without major resources to invest—but even in larger companies no one seems to know where to start. Yet it is crucial we do solve it—not just for health equity but for the legitimacy of clinical research. If trials do not include people from every relevant demographic, the data is skewed and the resulting therapies won’t have the same effect for everyone.

[salesforce form="2"]