Racial and Ethnic Minorities Underrepresented in Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trials

Andrew D. Bowser, MDedge News

May 27, 2021

Pancreatic cancer clinical trials conducted in the United States over the past few decades have not adequately reported or included racial and ethnic minority populations, results of a recent study suggest.

Adequate inclusion of underrepresented minorities in clinical trials is critical to reducing health care disparities and improving patient outcomes, according to investigator Kelly M. Herremans, MD, a surgical research fellow at the University of Florida in Gainesville. For the trials that did report race and ethnicity, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Hispanic patients were significantly underrepresented, according to the study, which was reported at the annual Digestive Disease Week® (DDW).

"It is unfortunate that we still have not made much headway regarding diversity in clinical trials in order to truly understand the impact that therapeutics may have on the population as a whole," Herremans said in a media briefing. "We need to have an accurate representation of the entire population reflected in these studies."

Only about half of the U.S. pancreatic cancer studies reported the race of participants, and slightly more than one-third reported ethnicity, Herremans said. She noted that certain racial and ethnic minorities, and in particular Black Americans, have a higher incidence of pancreatic cancer, are diagnosed at younger ages, and die sooner.

Racial and ethnic differences in pancreatic tumor biology have also been reported. Herremans said patients of African ancestry have both somatic and germline mutations when compared with other subgroups, meaning they may potentially respond differently to specific treatments. "Having diversity in trial participants is critical to ensuring that these differences can be clinically tested," she said.

Objective Data on an Uncomfortable Truth

This review of pancreatic cancer trials is an "excellent and much needed study," said Antonio H. Mendoza-Ladd, MD, of the division of gastroenterology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, El Paso. "It contributes objective data that brings to the mainstream an unspoken and uncomfortable truth: Systemic racism, bias, and discrimination exist in the medical system," Mendoza-Ladd said in an interview.

Pancreatic cancer is one of deadliest malignancies in the world, and underrepresented minorities bear the brunt of its lethality, according to Mendoza-Ladd. He said researchers should follow the recommendations of the study authors to ensure that underrepresented minorities are enrolled in clinical trials in sufficient numbers. "Pancreatic cancer does not discriminate by ethnicity or socioeconomic status, even if the medical system does," he said.

Pancreatic Cancer Trial Disparities

In their study, Herremans and colleagues analyzed 207 clinical trials in the United States for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma between 2008 and 2020. They identified the studies using ClinicalTrials.gov, a national registry of clinical trial data, then gathered trial data and demographics on 8,429 participants from reported study results and related publications. Using that data, they were able to evaluate the rates at which race, ethnicity, and gender have been reported over the past few decades, as well as the rates of inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities in the studies.

Fewer than half of the trials (49.3%) reported race, and only about one-third (34.7%) reported ethnicity. By comparison, 99% of the studies reported gender. Results did suggest an increase over time in reporting of race and ethnicity, according to Herremans, particularly since October 2016, when the Food and Drug Administration clarified its expectations on the collection and reporting of race and ethnicity data in clinical trials. However, the clinical trial data suggest minorities were substantially underrepresented in clinical trials during the study period. "Despite this change, we're not seeing the actual diversity improve in these clinical trials," Herremans said in an interview.

Black patients represented 8.2% of clinical trial participants despite constituting 12.4% of U.S. incident pancreatic cancer cases (P < .0001), according to data presented by Herremans. Likewise, the data show that Hispanic patients account for 8.5% of incident cases but made up 6.0% of clinical trial participants; Asian/Pacific Islanders total 3.3% of U.S. incident pancreatic cancer cases but represented 2.4% of trial participants; and American Indian/Alaskan Native patients constitute 0.4% of incident cases versus being 0.3% of participants (P < .0001 for all). Conversely, Herremans noted that White patients account for 82.3% of the incident cases but made up 84.7% of total trial participants (P = .002).

Herremans reported no financial disclosures related to the research. Mendoza-Ladd reported a relationship with ConMed.

This article originally appeared on GI & Hepatology News, the official newspaper of the AGA Institute.


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