Operational Assessment Leads Takeda to Take DE&I Action in the Community
The diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) movement in clinical research has progressed significantly in the past few years, moving from discussing barriers and potential solutions in 2020 to taking real action this year and the last, LaShell Robinson, Takeda’s head of DE&I in clinical research, told attendees at the 2023 WCG Patient Forum last week.
Many sponsors are now in the pilot stages of implementing diversity strategies for their trials, Robinson said during the virtual event. In addition, much doubt has been cast away as the positive impacts of DE&I efforts are being seen and realized.
“[We’ve moved] from ‘is this possible and what are [the] challenges’ to putting solutions in place that range from community outreach to really having an organizational or operational structure to address this,” she said. “I’ve also seen the discussion around ‘will this slow down the trial’ really be removed because people are realizing that the more access that we have to more patients, that can actually speed up more medicine and create innovation that makes sense for our patients.”
And while industry has seen much discussion and action around bringing research out of the traditional ivory tower and into communities, especially underrepresented ones, for Takeda, it was critical for the company to look at itself internally before making inroads to local populations, she told forum attendees.
Takeda began its DE&I journey by examining its operational design first.
“If we don’t start taking care of things that are in our operational design, then we are not going to be in a place where we can actually meet the community,” Robinson said. “It’s great to do community engagement and it’s great to do those things externally, but if we actually haven’t even prepared ourselves to meet the needs of the community, there’s almost no point in asking.”
As a result of that self-assessment, Takeda came up with an operational process to address barriers already known to the company, including patient transportation issues, site placement, investigator engagement and returning to the same “pool” of sites over and over.
Now, Takeda’s DE&I efforts center around its Communities as Partners program, an initiative that literally involves going into communities to learn more about them, teach them about clinical research, team up with community leaders and ultimately build strong bonds.
Importantly, because trust is a critical component for forging connections with underrepresented groups and their communities, this initiative begins with educational efforts on clinical research in a more general sense, not educational efforts for specific trials, Robinson noted.
That means “leading with that education” and teaching people what clinical research is, why it’s important, how it leads to innovative therapies and, critically, why the involvement of the community is so essential to delivering better medicine. It’s easy to blame diversity struggles on mistrust and focus on that, but the issue, Robinson believes, may be more along the lines of communities simply not knowing enough about clinical research.
“Often, we talk about mistrust and we really leave it at that. I hear sites mention that over and over again. But what’s amazing is when we actually put our investigators in front of the community, it allows them to see that maybe it’s not quite the mistrust; it’s the lack of information, it’s the unknown that’s actually keeping people from participating,” she said. “It really makes it seem as if community engagement and diversity in clinical trials is achievable through just simply providing more information.”
Watch the WCG Patient Forum 2023 here.