A push to get more California minorities into clinical trials

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Some ethnic groups are more prone to certain diseases. Some groups of people respond differently to various drugs. But most participants in clinical trials are white, even though people of racial and ethnic minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population.

That's why the California Medical Association Foundation and its Network of Ethnic Physician Organizations are launching a campaign to increase minority participation in clinical studies.

Increasing the diversity of trials could lead to better research and ultimately better health among communities of color, said Dr. Margaret Juarez, chair of the Network of Ethnic Physician Organizations.

"At least in California, we have such a diverse genetic pool of patients that we want all of them to be on the correct medication for their genetic makeup," she said.

There are a lot of reasons minority patients don't currently participate in trials.

They may have limited access to the specialty centers that typically refer people to trials or they may be wary of participating. For example, the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study remains a sore point in the African-American community. In that trial, which ran from 1932 to 1972, scientists misled black participants about the nature of the study and did not provide them with promised treatment, even after penicillin became the drug of choice in 1947. 

A 2015 PLOS Medicine article cited other challenges to diversifying trials, including the need for culturally and linguistically appropriate information about how individual studies work; the shortage of minority physicians and scientists working on trials; and the disparity in research grants awarded to minority researchers.

Juarez said the campaign will address some patients' discomfort with research. The effort will inform people about what clinical trials are, why they should participate, and how to get involved. It will include a public service announcement and posters sent to ethnic physicians' groups and specialty societies across the state.

"We're disseminating the information where we can find the population," she said. "Patients trust their physicians, so we're having physicians engage in that initial conversation with their patients."