A blog post by Clinical Research Pathways Executive Director Marjorie A. Speers, Ph.D.

The two young girls seem remarkably similar. They live in the same neighborhood and are in the same class in the same school. They see the same pediatrician and take the same medication to treat their asthma. And that’s where their stories take different paths.

The medication works better for the girl who is white than for her African American classmate.

How can that be? And why couldn’t we predict these disparate results?

One answer lies in the lack of diversity in studies of lung disease. The vast majority of study participants historically have been white, so we do not have enough data on how well experimental medicines work for nonwhite patients. This is the case for most clinical trials and resulting medications.

That’s why Clinical Research Pathways’ signature program focuses on increasing diversity among those who conduct and participate in clinical trials. It’s also why we urge you to support our efforts this giving season and all year long.

It’s just not fair if new medicines—and potential cures—work better for people of some races and ethnicities because they were the only groups included in the clinical trials.

The most common chronic childhood disease 

Asthma affects about 6 million U.S. children. Despite advances in treatment and disease management, more than half of children with this condition will have at least one asthma attack each year.

Asthma takes a greater toll on young African Americans and Puerto Ricans than on whites or Mexicans. African American and Puerto Rican children are roughly twice as likely to have asthma as white and Mexican children, are more likely to be hospitalized with asthma, and are more likely to die from asthma-related causes.

What’s behind these disparities?

Socioeconomic factors, inadequate access to quality healthcare, and higher exposure to pollutants and other asthma triggers have long been known to play key roles. Compounding the situation is the fact that the bronchodilator albuterol, the most commonly prescribed asthma medication, is least effective for those children most likely to have the disease.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Asthma Collaboratory have been studying the genetics of asthma in minority children for over 20 years and have found evidence of a link between certain gene variations and medication effectiveness. A recent UCSF study—the first using large-scale whole genome sequencing of asthma drug response in African American and Latino children—discovered new genetic variants associated with reduced albuterol response. One of the strongest associations involved a gene that is more common in people of African descent.

These results could be used to identify patients who are less likely to respond to albuterol and other similar medications. Perhaps even more critical, the results can help guide the development of therapies that work better for these patients. But first, more research is required, especially studies involving nonwhite children who have asthma.

That’s where Clinical Research Pathwaysand youcan make a difference. 

We’re partnering with Morehouse School of Medicine on “Training Minority Clinical Teams: Getting New Quality Medicines to All Americans.” This innovative program trains and mentors minority physicians to conduct clinical trials and enroll minority patients, as appropriate. Studies show this approach to recruitment has a better chance of succeeding because patients are more likely to participate in clinical trials if asked by a trusted healthcare provider.

Already, the program has recruited physicians in high-impact specialties, including cardiology, adult diabetes, neurology/Parkinson’s disease, nephrology, sleep disorders, and pediatrics.

We believe this program has the potential to change the makeup of clinical trials and improve health and well-being for people regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. And, you can be part of this potentially transformative effort.

As you make your year-end giving decisions, please support this work by including a gift to Clinical Research Pathways.