Eli Lilly has stepped up its efforts to boost diversity in oncology studies by launching a new collaborative training programme for trial investigators from minority communities in the US.

Lilly is conducting the programme, billed as the first of its kind in the pharmaceutical industry, with The Center for Drug Development and Clinical Trials at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) in upstate New York.

The initiative includes a three-day clinical-research workshop for minority physicians across the US, “Reducing Cancer Disparities Through the Training of a Diverse Workforce”.

The workshops will kick off in spring 2014 and run through to 2016.

Among their goals are:

·Expanding clinical research in minority and under-served populations by developing a cadre of well-trained minority investigators.

·Offering ongoing mentorship to young minority investigators through career-long relationships with the workshop faculty.

·Providing the necessary tools for clinical trials relevant to minorities and under-represented populations.

The organisers are targeting minority physicians and senior fellows who have cancer-related sub-specialties in medical, haematologic, radiation, pediatric, surgical and gynaecologic oncology.

Enrolment for next year’s workshop will begin this autumn, with details on the application process to be posted on both the RPCI and Lilly websites.

Low profile

As things stand, the partners noted, only about 1-2% of the 10,400 or so oncologists in the US are African American and around 2-3% are Hispanic. The aim of the joint initiative is to train 75 to 150 oncologists in conducting clinical trials.

Around two years ago, Lily released findings from an observational study assessing the impact of ethnicity on the second-line treatment of non-small cell lung cancer at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual ‘Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved’ meeting.

Targeted trial sites, information on patient-assistance programmes, on-site visits, culturally sensitive patient materials and amended protocol designs could all help to increase minority participation in clinical trials, the study indicated.

As Lilly pointed out at the time, racial and ethnic minorities were more likely to develop and die from cancer than the general US population. Yet only 17% of clinical trial participants in oncology were from minority communities.

Access to innovation

“Providing patients with access to new and innovative therapies is one of the most crucial issues in oncology,” commented workshop director Dr Alex Adjei, senior vice president for clinical research and director of the Center for Drug Development at Roswell Park, on the new initiative.

“But we can’t provide that access fairly and uniformly unless we make sure investigators are informed about existing clinical trials and trained in how to run their own research studies.”

Since medicines have different effects in different people, “we need to understand how medicines work and the safety profile in patients likely to take them”, added Dr Coleman Obasaju, senior medical director at Lilly Oncology and global leader of diversity in clinical research.

“By training more oncology minority investigators, our goal is to reach even more diverse populations,” Obasaju added.