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Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in Clinical Research

Focus Area: Current Project

Focus Area: Ethics, Conduct, and Oversight

In the U.S. and abroad, regulatory approvals for investigational products are based on carefully designed, blinded, randomized clinical trials. Ideally, the participant population enrolled in clinical trials reflects the composition of the general population or of those affected by the disease, so that the research yields generalizable knowledge pertinent to the population that will use the product. As safety and efficacy of drugs and biologics can vary depending on intrinsic and extrinsic factors, including an individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, and age, clinical trials should also provide information that informs the use of therapeutic agents within identified subgroups. However, despite regulatory directives and public expectations, the composition of study samples in most clinical trials does not reflect such characteristics in a manner that would permit analysis of treatment outcome by subgroup. This failure to achieve meaningful diversity limits information about drug response and measures of safety and efficacy in historically under-represented and under-studied populations, in particular woman, ethnic and racial minorities, children, and the elderly.

The MRCT Center ‘Diversity’ Workgroup was formed in February 2018 to clarify the meaning and advance the goals of diverse representation of participants in clinical research. The workgroup, comprised of a dynamic and diverse group of stakeholders includes academic- and industry-based leaders, not-for-profit institutional representatives, patients and patient advocates, and government representatives. The charge of the workgroup is to substantiate and qualify the value of diversity, inclusion, and health equity to the science of biological variability, health care, and social justice; to explore why diverse representation has not increased despite numerous calls to action; to identify and analyze barriers that limit diverse participation; and to develop and disseminate guidance materials, tactical strategies, and tools to advance required changes to conceptual, organizational, and operational challenges.

Current Status: Active Project


A conceptual framework, grounded in a clear set of ethical principles, that promotes understanding of the goals of diversity, addresses current barriers to progress, and explores solutions to common scientific and sociocultural barriers to meaningful diversity in clinical trials. This is timely and important, particularly as we have witnessed the profound impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented minority and vulnerable populations.


  • Clarify the meaning and advance the goals of diverse representation of participants in clinical research by developing a statement of principles and a conceptual framework to advance an understanding of diversity in clinical trials;
  • Substantiate and qualify the value of diversity to the science of biological variability, health care, and social justice;
  • Examine variability in methods used to define, collect, analyze, utilize, and communicate clinical trial data on race, gender, ethnicity, and age;
  • Describe the barriers to diverse representation in research, including scientific, ethical, and sociopolitical challenges;
  • Identify and define potential approaches and solutions to effective recruitment and retention of under-represented participants, referring providers, investigators and their research team, clinical sites, and sponsors, and measures to help ensure accountability;
  • Develop and disseminate actionable and scalable solutions (“tools”) to promote the goal of diversity in enrollment and to facilitate subgroup analysis in clinical trials.

Key Milestones:

  • December 2017: Initial teleconference of leadership team
  • February 2018: Inaugural conference call held with the working group
  • December 2018: Panel discussion at MRCT Center Annual Meeting
  • July 2019: Submitted comments to FDA in response to draft guidance on enhancing the diversity of clinical trial populations
  • November 2019: In-person meeting of Diversity Workgroup at Harvard Faculty Club
  • December 2019: Panel Discussion at MRCT Center Annual Meeting; published Version 1.0 of Diverse Representation and Inclusion in Clinical Research – Principles
  • August 2020: MRCT Center releases Achieving Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Clinical Research Guidance Document and launches Diversity in Clinical Research website
  • October 2020 – February 2021: Leaning In webinar series that focuses on practical approaches and shared experiences for improving diversity in clinical trials
  • September 2020: Webinar with FDA Office of Minority Health and Health Equity to launch MRCT Center’s “Achieving Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in Clinical Research” Guidance Document and Toolkit
  • November 30, 2020: Heterogeneity of Treatment Effects in Clinical Trials: Methods and Innovations. A virtual conference hosted by MRCT Center in collaboration with FDA.
  • January 2021: Guidance Document and supplementary Toolkit Version 1.1 available via
  • August 2020-March 2021: During first eight months after release of Guidance Document and Toolkit, MRCT Center gave ~30 presentations to various audiences, some of these are listed here
  • March 2021: Published “Justice, Diversity, and Research Ethics review” in Science magazine
  • April 2021: Launched a new round of MRCT Center Leaning In webinar series “Driving Inclusion in Clinical Research.” This series will focus on how to approach and plan for inclusion, implement recommendations, and sustain progress.

Project Leadership:

  • RADM Richardae Araojo, PharmD, MSc. Associate Commissioner for Minority Health and Director of the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, US FDA
  • Barbara Bierer, MD. Faculty Director, MRCT Center
  • Luther Clark, MD, FACC, FACP. Deputy Chief Patient Officer, Merck
  • David Strauss, MD. Senior Advisor, MRCT Center
  • Milena Lolic, MD, MS. Lead Medical Officer, US FDA
  • Sarah White, MPH. Executive Director, MRCT Center

Project Managers:

  • Hayat Ahmed, MSc.
  • Carmen Aldinger, PhD, MPH, PMP
  • Laura Meloney, MSc, MPH