Wilmot Cancer Institute working to diversify cancer drug trials

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The FDA will soon require researchers and drug companies to submit plans for ensuring diversity in clinical trials. But the effort to expand the pool of participants is already underway here in Rochester. 

“It’s really been over the last three to five years that there’s been significant attention addressing this and really making major attempts to improve things going forward,” explains Dr. Jonathan Friedberg, Director of the Wilmot Cancer Institute.

Historically, 85% of patients who have participated in drug trails at Wilmot have been white. While that percentage mirrors the diversity in the overall nine-county region it serves, it does not reflect the Rochester area specifically. That’s why Dr. Friedberg says the Institute has been working to change that.

“We have certain clinical trials where we’re actually intentionally trying to recruit diverse patients,” says Dr. Friedberg. “So, as an example, multiple myeloma is a cancer that is significantly overrepresented in black individuals and we have a clinical trial that is specifically targeting that population.”

Dr. Friedberg says it hasn’t always been easy to recruit people of color. When surveyed, many say the time commitment of the trials and the travel required to participate are barriers.

“We’ve started building into our trial budgets, travel fees,” he explains. “We’ve partnered with the American Cancer Society around Hope Lodge, which is free lodging particularly for our rural patients where they can come and stay and that’s very close to our center.”

Then, there is the effort to build trust within those diverse and rural communities.

“Regarding the trust, one of the other things we’ve made a strong effort to do is diversify the staff in our clinical trials office. I think if people are able to interact with people who look like them and come from broader backgrounds, that inherently is helpful,” says Dr. Friedberg. 

For more information on the current and upcoming trials at Wilmot Cancer Institute, click here.