Having more diverse staffing and engaging with communities could help to improve diversity in clinical research in the UK.

The issue of diversity has been in the spotlight for some time now, yet it continues to be an issue in clinical research. The main reason for the lack of representation appears to be mistrust in healthcare, which requires time for the industry to improve upon.

Dr Suki Balendra, director of strategic partnerships at Paddington Life Sciences, and Neelam Patel, non-executive director of the Health Research Authority (HRA) spoke on 5 September 2023 at the Arena International Outsourcing Clinical Trials UK and Ireland 2023 Conference in London about the lack of diversity in clinical trials despite the capital being the most diverse city in Europe.

“For many disenfranchised groups, the persistent lack of diversity in contemporary clinical trials such as the Covid vaccine trials only exacerbates those perceptions that research institutions do exclude and are not worthy of our trust,” Dr Balendra explains.

“It’s hugely important to recruit patients that are diverse into your clinical trials to ensure that they are fair and that you build trust with your patients.”

Dr Balendra noted how South Asians represent 11.2% of the total UK population in type 2 diabetes yet only 5.5% of South Asians are involved in clinical trials. Dr Balendra added: “We have a long way to go to really make sure that our clinical trials are reflective of the population.”

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Earlier this year, the HRA published guidance about improving diversity in clinical research, which includes a number of steps the HRA is taking itself.

One way that Dr Balendra and Ms Patel recommended improving trust in the community is for CROs and sponsors to have a more diverse staff and key opinion leaders to ensure people feel represented.

Patel said: “We recommended that research institutions, funders and companies should think about their workforce and encourage recruitment from diverse populations and training to support their staff to do that.”

“With the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), there’s lots of material out there to support recruitment from diverse populations but that training is not mandatory and we’re finding that staff are not accessing that material and not benefiting from that material.”

This was compared to the US where programmes have been set up to specifically support researchers from diverse backgrounds to write trial protocols relevant to their populations so that participants feel the trial is inclusive.

Other suggestions made included utilising a model spoken about earlier in the day by Professor Lucy Chappell and using GP practices to signpost people to clinical research which may improve the level of trust in the community. Community engagement was also spoken about, educating people, including children, about the importance of clinical research to ensure trust.