By Barry J. Gertz, Senior Vice President, Global Clinical Development, Merck Research Laboratories

In the U.S. today, certain racial and ethnic groups experience disparities in quality and access to healthcare. These disparities may be due to economic issues as well as an increased prevalence of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension. We’ve undertaken several initiatives designed to increase participation in clinical research efforts, while improving access to medicines and vaccines. They include:

  • Educating healthcare professionals to increase their awareness and understanding of the impact of healthcare disparities on quality of care and health outcomes.
  • Committing $15 million through 2013 from the Merck Company Foundation to The Alliance to Reduce Disparities in Diabetes. The alliance aims to decrease disparities in healthcare related to diabetes and to improve prevention and disease management services.
  • Establishing Merck for Mothers, a program to tackle the two leading causes of maternal mortality around the world: post-partum hemorrhage (bleeding after childbirth) and preeclampsia (hypertensive disorders).
  • Partnering with external organizations, including the Society for Women’s Health Research and the National Minority Quality Forum, to improve diversity of participants in clinical trials.

The safety and efficacy of new medicines and vaccines depends on their evaluation in the populations that will be using them, including minorities and women. Scientific evidence shows differing responses to medical treatments between genders and among racial and ethnic groups, yet women and minority populations have historically been (and continue to be) underrepresented in clinical trials. Increasingly, U.S. regulatory authorities expect to see diverse participants included in clinical development programs.

In collaboration with the head of Global Clinical Trial Operations and at the recommendation of the Women’s Business Insight Roundtable, the company has spearheaded an effort to increase diversity participation in clinical trials at both the investigator and patient levels. By doing so, we hope to bring innovative medicines to market that are relevant to underrepresented populations. One approach the clinical trials diversity team has taken is to enhance diverse patient participation in clinical trials through increasing recruitment of minority physicians.

Merck understands and appreciates the value of including minorities and women in clinical trials. Through investments and partnerships, we want to be an industry leader and set the standard for enhancing clinical trial participation to better reflect the diversity of patients who use our products. We believe this will make our research more relevant and meaningful, and ultimately help to save and improve more lives around the world.