Less than 8 per cent of cancer drug trials reported participation from the four major races in the U.S. (Asian, Black, Hispanic, and white) between 2008 and 2018, according to a recently-published paper in JAMA Oncology.

Black and Hispanic patients were particularly underrepresented, according to the paper, at 22 and 44 per cent of the total 8 per cent, respectively.

“Our findings show that the science might not [apply] to the population that’s going to receive the medications,” study lead author, Dr. Jonathan Loree, assistant professor in the department of medicine, division of medical oncology at UBC, said in a statement.

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“If patients are going to be receiving the drug, we need to know that it’s going to work for them with the same effectiveness that’s seen in the trial.”

According to Loree, the findings are important because genetic differences may influence how a patient responds to treatment:

Loree cites an example of a medication used to treat lung cancer that showed mediocre trial results in the global population but exhibited incredible success with young women who had never smoked in a study in Asia due to a genetic mutation that’s common in this population.

The researchers found that both reporting about race in trials and enrolment rates had changed minimally over the decade.


To form their conclusions, researchers from UBC, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle and Baylor University in Texas analyzed 230 cancer drug trials, totaling 112,293 participants.

They then calculated U.S. population-based cancer estimates by race using combined data from the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Census.

Researchers are now examining whether clinical trials represent the same gender ratio as the general population.