Lack of Diversity in Clinical Trials is a Danger to Multiple Sclerosis Patients

According to an article at Multiple Sclerosis News Today, at least one doctor at U.K. Healthcare’s Kentucky Neuroscience Institute wants more diversity in clinical trials. It’s not just about social equality – Dr. Jay Avasarala, a specialist in multiple sclerosis and neuroimmunology, knows that non-diverse clinical studies are having a real health impact on minorities.

About Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis is a serious autoimmune disorder affecting roughly a million Americans, and as many as 2.5 million people worldwide. MS causes the immune system to target and damage the protective coating around our neurons – the myelin sheath. Eventually, even nerves themselves may begin to deteriorate.

This leads to a long list of potential neurological problems, including loss of motor function.

That is – if you’re white.

No, I’m not kidding! Multiple sclerosis presents and progresses in completely different ways in black people and white people – kind of like how the symptoms of a heart attack are completely different between men and women. This is where Dr. Avasarala’s concerns arise.

Inequality in Study Groups Seems to be Rising

When black MS patients come to Dr. Avasarala, he often feels as though he can’t adequately help them. When patients ask for a drug recommendation, or a possible course of treatment, he can only shrug his shoulders. “We simply don’t have the data,” Avasarala said in a press release.

That’s because black people are making up a smaller and smaller portion of trial groups for experimental MS drugs. Between 2002 and 2013, black people with MS went from comprising 7.7% of clinical trials down to just 2%.

The obvious solution, according to Avasarala, would be to increase the number of black people participating in these phase 2 and 3 trials. In an ideal world, according to the doctor, no study should be deemed conclusive without a given percentage of black people participating.

Barring that however, certain changes to medication distribution could be made to yield slight improvements in the understanding of the effects certain drugs have on different cohorts (that’s fancy medical speak for different subgroups of a study population). Small changes like that could include post-marketing observation and data collection, to help drug manufacturers keep track of the effects that their drugs have on individuals across the board.

As it stands, these people are not being adequately treated.


In what way do our societal biases affect how we approach medicine? Most drugs assume the person taking them will be a white male. Does this seem safe? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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