Unlocking the Potential of AI and Digital Tech to Transform Clinical Trials

Updated on March 23, 2024

As communities worldwide celebrate Women’s History Month in March 2024, it is vital to spotlight a pivotal issue at the crossroads of healthcare, gender equity, and innovation. This period not only commemorates the strides made by women across various fields but also presents an opportune moment to scrutinize the systemic disparities within healthcare that significantly impact women. A glaring challenge that surfaces in this reflection is the distinct manner in which diseases manifest in women compared to men — a critical healthcare concern that is often exacerbated by the longstanding underrepresentation of women in clinical trials. 

Consider, for instance, the story of a woman who approaches her healthcare provider with symptoms that are atypical for common diagnoses — nausea, vomiting, and back pain. These symptoms, while not immediately alarming or seemingly connected, were actually warning signs of an impending heart attack. This anecdote illustrates the dire consequences of a healthcare system that has historically been calibrated to male standards. Diseases do not discriminate by gender in their impact, yet the medical research that guides diagnosis and treatment has not adequately accounted for gender differences in its data collection and analysis processes. 

Addressing Disparities Through Awareness and Representation  

A study analyzing 32,000 participants in drug trials in the U.S. in 2020 found notable underrepresentation among key demographic groups, with only 8% Black, 6% Asian, and 11% Hispanic participants, and 30% aged 65 or older. This represents a decline in diversity compared to 2019.  

A significant awareness gap compounds this underrepresentation; data from the Health Information National Trends Survey in 2020 found that 41.3% of U.S. adults were not aware of clinical trials. This lack of knowledge is particularly pronounced among Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black communities, which further limits diverse participation and raises concerns about the efficacy and safety of new medical treatments for these populations. 

Legislative Steps Toward Inclusive Clinical Trials 

In response to these disparities, legislative measures such as the Diverse and Equitable Participation in Clinical Trials (DEPICT) Act have been introduced. Passed by the U.S. Congress and included in the January 2023 omnibus spending bill, the DEPICT Act mandates that clinical trial sponsors develop a diversity plan. This regulation aims to ensure that research studies reflect the diverse demographics of the population, thereby making clinical trials more inclusive. When sponsors fail to meet these diversity enrollment targets, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now has the authority to require post-market studies, adding additional layers of accountability and potentially imposing more work and costs on sponsors. This legislative effort represents a significant step toward rectifying the longstanding issue of underrepresentation in clinical research. 

The disparity in clinical trials is not a minor oversight but a significant gap that has life-threatening implications for half the world’s population. Legislative efforts such as the DEPICT Act and the updated Clinical Trials Regulation in the European Union, are critical strides toward rectifying these longstanding inequalities. These measures mandate the inclusion of diverse demographic groups in clinical research, ensuring that medical advancements are beneficial and accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. 

Embracing Technology for Greater Equity in Research 

The advent of digital healthcare technologies — from wearable devices to advanced cloud solutions — presents an innovative pathway to enhancing inclusivity in clinical trials. These technologies enable a broader, more diverse group of participants to be recruited, extending beyond the traditional confines of geographical location. For example, deploying interactive VR-enabled pods in pharmacies is a testament to the creative ways technology can bridge the awareness and accessibility gap in clinical trial participation. These pods, coupled with AI’s ability to sift through and analyze complex datasets, offer a glimpse into a future where clinical research and treatment are as diverse as the global population they aim to serve. 

By employing artificial intelligence to design more inclusive trials and analyze health data, the potential to revolutionize healthcare and ensure gender equity in medical research becomes closer to reality. AI has the capability to integrate vast amounts of information, enabling healthcare professionals to make more informed decisions and tailor treatments to the unique needs of diverse patient populations. 

The Path Forward: Collective Action for Health Equity 

To honor the accomplishments and progress of women, it’s essential to confront and address the healthcare disparities that disproportionately affect them. The underrepresentation of women in clinical trials is a multifaceted issue that necessitates a collective effort from legislators, researchers, and the healthcare community at large. With the implementation of legislative reforms, society is on the cusp of creating a more inclusive, equitable healthcare landscape. This concerted effort promises a future where medical treatments and research reflect the diversity of the population to ensure better health outcomes for women across the globe.  

Gaurica Chacko copy
Gaurica Chacko
Global Domain and Consulting Head Life Sciences at Wipro Limited

Gaurica Chacko is the Global Domain and Consulting Head Life Sciences at Wipro Limited, a global information technology, consulting, and outsourcing company. She is a proven industry leader with more than 20 years of experience in management consulting and life sciences, primarily focusing on business and digital transformation, cloud development, health equity, and clinical and commercial strategy.