Even as a teen in Egypt, Amira Nada was drawn to the idea of clinical research and how it could help people live healthier, richer lives. “When I was a young girl, I saw people around me suffering from mental and other health challenges, and I recognized they had unmet needs current treatments couldn’t alleviate,” she says. “They weren’t getting the relief they needed, and I wanted to help change that,” Amira adds.
Fast forward a few years, and Amira became a pharmacist in Egypt dedicated to advancing patient health. A few years later, she moved to the United Kingdom and, in 2017, passed exams to become a credentialed pharmacist in the U.K. She decided to focus on patient recruitment to promote diversity in clinical trial populations. Today, she’s Head of GP Engagement and Patient Recruitment for Velocity Clinical Research in the U.K.
Through it all, her commitment to and belief in clinical research never wavered. “It’s the key to advancements in medicine, a field that cannot afford to stand still. Without it, our population would still be suffering with medical conditions like smallpox and polio,” Amira says.
The challenge of diverse patient recruitment
The effectiveness of clinical trials is hindered if the broadest patient population is not included. Too often, people do not know about the opportunities to take part in clinical research, and this is even more pronounced amongst those from diverse populations. Amira said, “I have been in the U.K. for almost 10 years now and have yet to be approached with information about or the opportunity to join any clinical trials outside my work environment. Just like me, a huge portion of the population are unaware these opportunities exist, and they can be involved.” Recruiting a more diverse patient population is a key to improving overall trial and treatment quality, experts agree. Studies also suggest that a diverse clinical trial recruitment team tends to have better success connecting with and retaining patients from more diverse populations.
Unfortunately, some of these patients are missing out on what can potentially be a chance to improve their life and health, Amira says. “Through participation in clinical trials, patients are able to gain a better understanding of their condition and to access expert medical care, which includes the latest cutting-edge treatments that would otherwise be unavailable to them.”
Amira and her team don’t just talk about the need to expand the geographic range of clinical trials, they also roll up their sleeves when confronting the challenge of widening the clinical trial tent. For example, they take great care to consider the physical location of their sites to make it easier for people from different communities to participate. “We target heavily populated and culturally diverse areas; this enables us to actively take an inclusive approach to the patients we make our trials available to,” Amira said. “That includes finding sites amenable to public transportation.”
Amira and the team also send out leaflets and other educational material within a 10-mile radius of the site. In addition, they plan to host open house and community-led events at clinics before the end of 2023.
“There’s so much potential for clinical trials to help find new ways to advance medicine and improve the lives of patients,” Amira said, “and it’s up to us to make sure as many people as possible understand the benefits of participating in trials, to make life better for everyone.”
Why diversity matters
A range of factors from trust to site location, to local community engagement is needed to address the diversity problem in patient recruitment. If these populations are underserved in clinical trials, then the medications and treatments available to them are less effective.
“Today, we still face countless challenging medical conditions that significantly lack optimal management; in fact, as a pharmacist, I am constantly approached by patients searching for better treatment options — a need which frustratingly cannot be met by currently licensed medicines,” she says.
“Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for clinical research and constant improvements in medicine. As clinical research is governed by strict rules and regulations, it allows us to reach these advancements in a humane manner while maintaining the dignity of and utmost respect for our volunteers,” Amira adds.