Health disparities are not new, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on long-standing health inequities that affect diverse racial and ethnic communities in America. Data shows these populations have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In fact, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, and Black populations are approximately twice as likely to die from COVID-19, as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
Researchers have found that people with certain health conditions, including chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung diseases, type 2 diabetes, heart conditions, HIV infection, liver disease, obesity, sickle cell disease and stroke, are at higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. Many of these conditions are tied to health disparities that disproportionality affect racial and ethnic communities for genetic and environmental reasons, or due to inequities in social and economic conditions.
Today, PhRMA released a new report exploring the 829 medicines in development that aim to address the diseases and conditions that affect racial and ethnic communities at a higher rate and are also associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes.
Among the medicines in development to improve management of these diseases are:
- An anti-retroviral treatment for HIV infections. The medicine inhibits HIV-1 replication in human peripheral blood cells by inhibiting capsid protein formation. It is being studied in both heavily treatment-experienced patients with multi-drug resistance and treatment-naïve patients living with HIV.
- A gene-edited cell therapy that could potentially be a one-time treatment for sickle cell disease, uses zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), which consists of a protein with a DNA-cutting enzyme, to modify a patient’s own hematopoietic stem cells to produce normal-shaped red blood cells using fetal hemoglobin.
- A first-in-class medicine for asthma that blocks TSLP, an immune system messenger protein critical in the development and persistence of inflammation of the airways. By blocking TSLP, the release of pro-inflammatory proteins by immune cells will be stopped, preventing asthma exacerbations and improving asthma control.
- A potential treatment for renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer, by stimulating cancer killing cells in the body in combination with an approved immune checkpoint inhibitor. It works by unleashing the body’s own powerful immune system to target and kill cancer cells, while leaving normal cells alone.
- A medicine for treating large hemispheric infarction, a severe form of ischemic stroke, where brain swelling leads to stroke-related deaths and disabilities. The medicine targets and blocks a receptor that mediates stoke-related brain swelling. In clinical trials, it has demonstrated a potential to reduce brain swelling, disability and the risk of death.
It is critical that all patients, including historically underserved racial and ethnic communities, have access to medicines. One way to reduce barriers to health care access and enable everyone to benefit from new medicines is to ensure that clinical trials are diverse and inclusive and include participants representative of the population the medicine intends (or aims) to treat. The biopharmaceutical industry has been working with patients, communities, regulatory authorities, health care practitioners, academics and policymakers to enhance diversity in clinical trials, so the clinical trial population testing medicines better reflect the patients that will use the new therapies and medicines should they are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
To this end, PhRMA and its member companies have voluntarily adopted first-ever industry-wide principles on clinical trials diversity, adding a new chapter to the already existing Principles on Conduct Clinical Trials & Communication of Clinical Trial Results. The new clinical trial diversity principles are designed to build trust, reduce barriers to clinical trial access, enhance an understanding of drug effects in diverse patient populations, and promote the sharing of information on policies and practices to increase clinical trial diversity.
Equity is critical to the health and well-being of diverse racial and ethnic communities, and it remains essential to a robust ecosystem of innovation. America’s biopharmaceutical companies are pushing for necessary systemic and long-term change to better meet the needs of underserved communities in America.