Lilly's clinical trial project shows promise and pitfalls of minority recruitment

There's a longstanding problem with clinical trials for cancer drugs which has been nagging regulators and developers for years. Historically, only a small segment of the minority community ever gets enrolled in the studies, even though cancer claims a large share of minority lives.

So pharma giant Eli Lilly ($LLY) set out to systematically change the way it handled its patient recruitment efforts to rectify the situation. After hosting advisory meetings, surveying an impressive 241 trial investigators and otherwise getting as much relevant advice as it could, Lilly set out to see if it could significantly improve on the 17% average recruitment figure for racial and ethnic minorities in a study on second-line treatment of non small-cell lung cancer.

Lilly picked new trial sites likely to cater to larger numbers of minorities, and in a big play for more Hispanic representation, the pharma company translated its materials into Spanish.

The end result: 43% of the remaining enrollees (37 African Americans, 30 Asian Americans and 18 Hispanic Americans) were drawn from minority groups. But despite all their efforts, Lilly reports that the trial did not reach "critical mass on the Asian American and Hispanic American arms." Still, Lilly says that's a good start.

"While the study fell short of its planned patient accrual, with only 434 of 1,000 patients enrolled, it proved that minority participation in clinical trials can increase dramatically with targeted interventions," said Dr. Coleman Obasaju, senior medical director at Lilly Oncology. "We will apply these learnings to future trials right from the start."

- here's the Lilly release