Belinda Tan - Science 37

Discussing Diversity with Belinda Tan

Why is diversity important in clinical research and to Science 37? We sat down with our co-founder and chief medical officer, Dr. Belinda Tan, to find out.

Q: More and more people are becoming aware of Science 37 and the company’s goal of democratizing science through clinical research. What role does diversity have in our mission?
We want to promote awareness about how clinical research is designed to develop new treatments for different populations of people, especially people who don’t have good options. We need to understand all of the potential ways each and every person is different and how it could impact how someone responds to a new treatment. We want to conduct clinical research studies that we think will make the most impact on those of us who need better treatments. In some cases, that means putting a focus on communities that have been underrepresented.

Q: What about the idea that “science is science” and “humans are humans” — the idea that your race, gender, location, etc., shouldn’t factor into science?
Today, in 2018, we have very clear scientific evidence that every person is made of a genetically unique combination of traits that will impact how they respond to different environmental factors, including the types of medicines they take. Since people are different, we have to take into consideration how we’re designing and testing new treatments so that we can help the most people. So, despite humans being humans, which is true in a certain context, every person is different.

Q: Science 37’s approach eliminates geographical barriers and potentially allows for a more diverse group of participants. Why are trials that focus on diversity important to Science 37?
Sometimes there will be studies that specifically target minority populations. In many cases, these studies are designed due to feedback that the drug manufacturer received — that a drug, which may already be commercially available, needs to be tested in more people of color. In other words, there’s a risk that there’s not enough scientific evidence to show that if you’re Latino, Asian, or African-American, that this drug will work for you. Without testing drugs on different populations, the medications might also not be safe. So that’s why some studies are designed around certain populations of people.

Q: Why are clinical trials that focus on diversity important to you personally?
I did a lot of my training in the Los Angeles healthcare systems, both at UCLA and then also at the L.A. County public hospitals. I still work at the L.A. County Hospital once a month in a clinic taking care of patients. In that clinic, we make sure that our patients come back for follow-up after surgery or any condition that needs monitoring. Our patients come from very diverse backgrounds, culturally, ethnically, and socioeconomically, and they have challenges with keeping appointments because of transportation difficulties (many don’t own cars), inflexible work schedules, and caring for dependents. That’s one of the reasons we started Science 37 in the first place — to remove barriers so that everyone can get the care they need. I think if we want to care about humankind and be the best healthcare providers that we can be, we have to think about how every person comes from a different background and has a different story.

Q: How will Science 37 continue to work on increasing diversity in clinical research?
While we do promote diversity at Science 37, the inherent outcome of our model is the ability to reach broadly and deeply into diverse communities. So, I think that that’s an advantage of expanding beyond clinical sites and major institutions — you provide the opportunity for anyone, no matter what the color of their skin, their socioeconomic background, their educational background, to get involved. Even the FDA is pushing toward more diversity, which is not only your ethnicity, but also your socioeconomic background, your environment, and every part of your life.



Tags: Diversity

Lawrence Lloyd has more than a decade of experience in health communication strategies, marketing, and content development in academic, Fortune 500, and start-up environments. Lawrence earned his MA in journalism from USC and his BA in communication from California State University, Los Angeles. He loves exploring the different ways that Science 37 can expand patient access to innovative therapies.

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