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Diversifying Research


ACORN offers equal opportunity research.

By Deborah Borfitz

June 10, 2008 | Thanks to this deceptively simple strategy, one out of every five patients of Accelerated Community Oncology Research Network (ACORN) last year was African-American, according to CEO Steve Coplon. “We’re bringing research to where patients are,” he says. At individual clinics, the figure for African-American recruitment ranged from 3 percent (in a more rural setting) to 32 percent.

Minority accrual statistics were formally tracked for the first time last year, says Coplon, but have been improving over the past three years. The percentage of accruals for Asian-Americans and Latinos was less than 5 percent, which is believed to be roughly on par with the performance of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

In terms of both education and outreach, ACORN—part contract research organization, part site management organization—has made no special effort to draw African-Americans into clinical trials, says Coplon. A small handful of the 150 clinical investigators in the network are black and practicing in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Community oncology clinics care for more than 84 percent of the nation’s cancer patients, and they “cover the entire spectrum” in terms of race and nationality, says Coplon. The three dozen practices that compose ACORN also have a designated “physician champion” who is committed to clinical research as the means to wipe out cancer—and “not just for white males or women but for African-Americans and Latinos and Asians.” The locations include urban centers such as Miami and Los Angeles and more rural ones, including Billings, MT.

ACORN’s recruitment statistics more or less mirror local demographics, says Coplon. Conversely, participation in research housed in academia tends to reflect the populations that happen to live nearby or have the wherewithal to get to and navigate a university campus. That may contribute to the relatively poor minority inclusion statistics seen with studies placed at designated NCI centers. Recent NCI data show that African-Americans represent only 7.46 percent of all clinical trial participants, although the 2000 Census puts their representation in the overall U.S. population at 12.9 percent.

Nationally, overall accrual of adult oncology patients of all races into trials is only about 3 to 4 percent, says Coplon. Within the network, the figure is roughly 8 percent.

At any time, ACORN is actively involved in 125 to 150 trials, says Coplon. Last year, it also supported 40 to 50 trials initiated by network investigators.

“Sites generally don’t have to pay us unless their performance falls below a certain objective and become a drain on the entire network,” says Coplon. “Part of the plan this year is to remove a few sites that are under-performing.” Given that more sites are simultaneously coming on board, ACORN will grow.

The network helps make participation in clinical trials palatable for time-pressed physicians, says Coplon. “No one gives more than 20 percent of their time to research, even our physician champions.” 

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This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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