Health inequity is one of the most urgent challenges facing the life sciences industry, having been thrust to the forefront by COVID-19 and the intensified focus on racial injustice in the U.S. The fact is, addressing health disparities is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business; this is a timely opportunity for life sciences to do well by doing good. The consequences of not prioritizing health equity are considerable from both clinical and commercial perspectives.

Clinical Consequences

According to the FDA, medical products are safer and more effective for everyone when clinical research includes diverse populations. In spite of this universal truth,  minorities make up only an estimated 2 to 16 percent of research study participants, yet nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population., This lack of diversity is problematic both for patients and for the life sciences companies that serve them – and, ultimately, has a negative impact on the communities in which we live.

Falling short on diverse clinical trial representation harms underserved populations in a number of ways.  First, these populations miss the opportunity to test investigational treatments that could benefit them during the trial itself. Further, lack of diversity can heighten mistrust of the medical establishment among minorities, who seek reassurance that treatments have been trialed by people like them. 

Lack of trial diversity might also raise questions about whether study findings are skewed if they do not reflect the diversity of the full target population. Especially with trials addressing heart disease, cancer, stroke and other diseases that disproportionately affect minorities, lack of race representation can hamper efforts to generalize findings to the broader and more diverse population.

The barriers to diverse clinical trial participation are many – from mistrust of the health establishment to financial and time constraints – and are difficult to overcome. But without a proactive and collaborative effort to address these hurdles up front in clinical strategy and study design, life sciences companies increasingly risk the costly prospect of having to repeat their research. 

Commercial Impact

Commercially, healthcare disparities can prevent a brand from fulfilling its market potential. Medication nonadherence – a source of $250 billion in lost revenue annually for life sciences companies – has been linked to social factors and contributes to disparate health outcomes. Studies have shown that social determinants of health (SDOH) impact factors like access to transportation and ability to afford medication, which in turn affect patients’ willingness and ability to follow a treatment regimen. Failing to address SDOH as part of commercialization strategy, through thoughtful programs designed to address these barriers to equitable market access, can make it hard to recover these missed market segments later. 

The Bottom Line

Tackling health inequity is imperative from a clinical, commercial and reputational perspective. No life sciences company wants to make headlines for persistent homogeneity of clinical trial participants or socioeconomically limited market access programs. 

The bottom-line impact of health inequity is undeniable. Advancing health outcomes for all individuals is good for society and for business. But it’s not easy, not least because understanding the root causes of disparities in healthcare is challenging. Life sciences companies would do both well and good to take advantage of the latest tools and platforms to understand the drivers of health inequity so that they can continue to root it out, one clinical trial and brand launch at a time.

Ready to learn more? Check out our Social Determinants of Health fact sheet.

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