How Merck Is Prioritizing Diversity in Clinical Trials and Why It's So Important

New team augments ongoing efforts to increase participation from underrepresented communities in clinical trials to improve health equity
Jan 5, 2023 8:05 AM ET
A woman in a lab coat asking questions to a woman

Different people may have different reactions to the same medicines and vaccines based on their age, gender, weight, race, ethnicity, geography or other factors. That’s why Merck is committed to enrolling a diverse body of participants in its clinical trials. To help do that, Merck recently augmented its ongoing efforts by creating a new team dedicated to diversity & inclusion in clinical trials.

“We’re focused on how we can inform and encourage underrepresented communities to participate in clinical trials,” said Adrelia Allen, senior director, clinical trial diversity and lead of Merck's new team. “It means we must expand and strengthen our community relationships to build trust and engagement.”

The newly expanded team strives to do just that.

Why is diversity in clinical trials so important?

Clinical trials are research studies designed to learn more about how our bodies respond to drugs or other treatments. When clinical trial volunteers are diverse, these studies can show if the treatments are safe and work well for people from all different communities. They also help researchers better understand patterns of difference in health and illness based on different backgrounds.

What is Merck doing to increase access and inclusion in clinical trials?

Over the last five years, Merck has worked to help historically underrepresented communities access its clinical trials. For example, the company:

  • Implemented a new process that requires diversity plans (actionable steps) across all late-stage clinical trials.
  • Prioritized selection of U.S. sites in diverse communities by using census data.
  • Developed various partnerships with community organizations, colleges and universities, and professional organizations to expand outreach to people from different genders, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
  • Invested in training and tools for researchers, its teams, clinicians and others at clinical trial sites to address the need for broader clinical trial access.

Merck's approach is working. In 2022, approximately 50% of its clinical trial patients were from diverse backgrounds – both in the U.S. and globally.

But Merck feels there is more that can be done. The company's diversity & inclusion in clinical trials team is focused on increasing access to clinical trials in the U.S. and will expand those efforts globally.

“With the bigger team and the support of many people across our company who are passionate about this work, we’re making important progress. We’ll also be able to drive new health innovations and help overcome serious health care challenges – for everyone.”