Morehouse joins initiative to increase diversity in clinical trials

The effort by Morehouse School of Medicine is intended to resolve issues that communities of color have faced with medical advancements.

Morehouse School of Medicine is teaming up with CommonSpirit Health in a 10-year, $100 million partnership to train more Black physicians and work toward health equity for underserved communities.

Morehouse School of Medicine is taking part in a $10 million partnership created to include more racially and ethnically diverse participants in medical and drug research.

The collaboration announced Tuesday, Equitable Breakthroughs in Medicine Development, is sponsored by PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America), an organization that represents drug companies.

Along with the Yale School of Medicine, the Research Centers in Minority Institutions Coordinating Center at Morehouse School of Medicine and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Morehouse School of Medicine is hoping to reach more people from minority communities.

“We all know that clinical trials haven’t always reflected the patients in new medicines that it is intended to serve…,” said Stephen J. Ubl, president and CEO of PhRMA. “Today we are taking an important step to help bring meaningful change.”

The initiative comes at a time when the Food and Drug Administration is pushing for increased enrollment of ethnic and racial minorities in clinical trials through diversity plans that guide and provide recommendations. According to FDA data, in 2020 over 32,000 people took part in drug trials and 75% were white, 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, and 6% were Asian.

For Black Americans, the history of participation in medical research is troubling. Oftentimes, Black individuals were not always willing and knowing test subjects in scientific studies. Many cite the infamous Tuskegee syphilis studies as an example of medical mistreatment of Black Americans that contributes to mistrust within the community today. The U.S. Public Health Service conducted what is commonly known as the Tuskegee Experiment beginning in 1932 and lasting 40 years. In it, about 400 African American men with syphilis were deliberately left untreated so doctors could study the disease.

Through the new collaboration, the Morehouse School of Medicine and the other partners hope to tackle issues that communities of color have faced with clinical trials and medical advancements. Members of these communities are often not asked to participate in trials, cannot afford to take time off from work to participate, and do not have access to transportation to sites, among other factors.

“We at the Morehouse School of Medicine believe that clinical trail diversity is an issue of fairness. It is the first step in achieving health equity,” said Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and CEO of Morehouse School of Medicine.

During the next 18 months, the group will begin to form a network of community-based trial sites in minority communities. The first ten trial sites will be in the Southeast and Southwest areas of the U.S. where researchers say there is the lowest rates of clinical trial participation. Specific site locations were not shared.

“We have to empower our local communities to ask for what they need and to have access to clinical trials. It’s not just individual patient access. It’s community access,” Dr. Nancy Brown, dean of medicine and a professor at Yale School of Medicine, explained.

Researchers at Morehouse School of Medicine say that the institution has long been at work addressing these issues.

“While this level of comprehensive collaboration is a first-of-its-kind initiative, it’s important to recognize that MSM and others have been working tirelessly on this issue for decades,” said Elizabeth Ofili, a professor of medicine and principal investigator of the Research Centers in Minority Institutions Coordinating Center at Morehouse School of Medicine, in a press release.

Morehouse School of Medicine President Valerie Montgomery Rice pointed to the success of community outreach around coronavirus vaccines as an indicator of where efforts can lead.

“I do believe that the presence of a historically Black medical school does add to the opportunity to have diverse people feel comfortable with coming and participating in a clinical trial,” Montgomery Rice remarked.

“We have been in the community, not just of the community.”

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