A national oncology research network claims it is “bridging the disparity” gap in US healthcare by boosting minority participation in clinical trials.

The Accelerated Community Oncology Research Network (ACORN), which includes more than 150 oncology investigators and offers a full suite of centralised clinical trial services focused exclusively on cancer, says it is enrolling more than double the national average of African-Americans in oncology-related trials.

In 2007 around 20% of ACORN’s patients were African-American, while in at least one clinic the proportion was as high as 32%, the network noted. According to the 2000 Census, African Americans make up 12.9% of the US population, yet National Cancer Institute (NCI) data show they account for only 7.46% of all clinical trial participants in the category, down from 7.9% previously.

As is well recognised, there are historical reasons for the reluctance of African Americans and other ethnic minorities to take part in clinical research. In the oncology arena, the NCI puts the waning trend partly down to physicians failing to discuss the availability of trials with minority patients, as well as a lack of information about the potential benefits of enrolment.

Moreover, the NCI points out, there are not enough studies conducted “in community settings where people affected by disparities often live”. A further obstacle is trial design, with eligibility criteria that “are very rigorous, are standardised, and may exclude patients with multiple health problems, many of whom are minorities”.

ACRON says its oncology practices fully integrate clinical research into their operations as a means to boost minority participation. “Patients are thoroughly informed about research possibilities and learn that being a part of a study means they are closely monitored, receiving the highest standard of care in addition to the most promising treatments under investigation”, it notes.

Based in Memphis, Tennessee, ACRON is privately funded and was created by community oncologists to address inefficiencies in clinical research. According to the network, community oncology clinics care for more than 84% of cancer patients in the US and have “dramatically improved access to care, including the underserved”.