Dr. David Bell examining a patient

Columbia University and Pfizer to Establish Clinical Trials Diversity Initiative

Columbia University Irving Medical Center, its Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Pfizer Inc. have established the Columbia-Pfizer Clinical Trials Diversity Initiative, with the aim of reducing health disparities by increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities in clinical trials and enhancing the diversity of clinical researchers.

Pfizer will provide a three-year, $10 million grant to Columbia to help establish and expand the Initiative.

Improving diversity among clinical trial participants is a critical step toward reducing racial and ethnic disparities in health. In the United States, 12% of the population is Black and 18% is Hispanic or Latino. But among the 32,000 patients who participated in the clinical trials that led to the FDA approval of new drugs in 2020, only 8% were Black and 11% were Hispanic, according to the agency.

“People of different ethnicities can have different responses to the same medicine or treatment, so a lack of diversity among clinical trial participants means doctors cannot know if the treatment will be effective in all the patients they treat,” said Anil K. Rustgi, MD, Interim Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia University and director of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Increasing diversity in trials will improve the treatment of patients from underrepresented groups and is a moral imperative as well as a fundamental medical issue.”

Rod MacKenzie, PhD, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at Pfizer, said, “Diversity of representation in clinical trials is a matter of equity, which is a core Pfizer value. We are deeply committed to ensuring our clinical trials reflect the diversity of the communities like New York in which they are conducted. We look forward to working with Columbia University both to offer any willing individual, regardless of background, the opportunity to participate in and contribute to clinical research, and to expand the roster of diverse clinical researchers who are helping us conduct studies.”

The Columbia-Pfizer Clinical Trials Diversity Initiative will work to improve the diversity of participants in clinical trials by examining the barriers that prevent participation by individuals from underserved groups. The initiative will expand Columbia’s Community Health Workers Program network to connect with underserved populations and create culturally sensitive engagement tools. The effort also will include identifying new ways to make clinical trials more accessible through telemedicine, wearable technology, and home visits.

The Initiative also aims to improve diversity among clinical research faculty and staff. Columbia will help build an additional pipeline of diverse clinical investigators through a new National Diversity Clinical Trials Leadership Program to increase the number of faculty and staff from underrepresented groups as well.

“A diverse research staff not only helps to improve trust in clinical trials among participants from underserved groups but improves the entire clinical trial enterprise by bringing different questions, experience, and perspective to the table,” Rustgi said.