Diversity and Inclusion in Life Sciences

After having been in the life sciences industry for more than 25 years I have seen impotent efforts at increasing diversity in clinical trials as well as hiring and promoting diverse employees. I was fortunate to make some headway in my own career, but as one of few Black people in a company – not an HR person – I was asked to help with employee recruitment many times. While I learned a lot from these experiences I look back and know, now, that this was not the right approach. These days I am hearing the same practice is continuing to happen. If industry is serious it has to invest money in the effort – not ask a non-white employee already with a job to do. Hire an expert in the area of diversity and inclusion to work with that appointed employee, at the very least.    As for clinical trial recruitment, the industry’s efforts have been equally feeble. I worked for a company focused on rare disease. They were having trouble recruiting for a clinical trial and, as the patient advocate at the company, I was asked to take a look at what they were doing and help out. I did take a look, only to realize the disease for which they were recruiting was a rare disease prevalent in the Black population – no one at the company seemed to realize this. I cross referenced the clinical trial sites with the demographics of the areas in which those sites resided. Bingo! Most sites were in highly academic centers AND many were in locations where there were few or no Black residents. I developed a plan to connect the academic nephrologists with community-based nephrologists who saw Black patients. The plan would cost $150,000. The company declined the plan. They did not value diversity in the clinical trial that much.    Fast forward, the trial was filled and completed. The safety and efficacy data was great but, the FDA said the demographics were wrong, not enough representation that mirrored the real world experience. So, 6 years later, the trial is, again, recruiting – for Phase III. In rare disease most drugs are approved in Phase II – the phase for which I had proposed the plan. 6 years wasted – no positive outcomes for patients, no revenue for the company, more money invested in the much more expensive Phase III trial – all because diversity was not important, was not valued.  This happens over and over and , finally, the FDA is not having it anymore. The FDA has strengthened its original 2012 guidance. and companies MUST comply.  As for recruitment and development of diverse employees, the present climate regarding social justice, systemic racism is making some companies wake up to the value of diversity in their organizations. No legislation will help here – only good leadership – and that is a choice. The data show over and over (from the Boston Consulting Group, from the World Economic Forum, to name a few sources) that companies that are more diverse are more successful. What else will this take? COVID-19 has exposed the value of diversity in both cases. This is the golden opportunity for the life sciences industry to learn how to do this, why to invest in diversity. I am somewhat hopeful, more than I have been in years, and I will do my best to support sponsors AND get this done. Till next time, Dyan Bryson Patient Engagement Strategist                                                     


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