Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in clinical trials

May 19, 2023
About the Author

Rochelle Williams-Belizaire is a clinical research professional with over two decades of experience in the biomedical research industry, mainly in the academic setting. In each of her roles, Rochelle has successfully driven projects analyzing social determinants of health and cultural and communication gaps to address health equity in cancer care. She has served on several nonprofit boards and executive councils focused on health equity.

Q: Explain your role at Mirati and your primary focus.

A: As Director of Clinical Research Collaborations at Mirati Therapeutics, I leverage my experience leading at sites to establish and grow partnerships in clinical research. I serve as a point of contact for designated research executives and study teams to maximize operations and ultimately reduce the burden on the site to enroll patients in clinical research.

Q: What made you pursue a career in pharma, specifically Clinical Research Collaborations?

A: Before joining Mirati, I leveraged my knowledge and expertise with some of the nation’s leading academic-affiliated, NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers. As an immigrant, a woman, and a minority in America, I have seen first-hand the long-term impact of discriminatory practices in healthcare; my most tremendous loss in life was due to inequities in maternal health. As such, I have made a point to successfully lead projects that advance health equity in cancer care in each of my roles. During my tenure at these institutions, I recognized sites’ significant role in promoting equitable access to clinical trials. Pharmaceutical companies are uniquely poised to provide options through clinical trials for patients living with cancer, and of equal importance, often can provide the resources to support equitable access to clinical trials. A career in pharma complements my existing knowledge from the site and community perspective. It keeps my mission to ensure all persons living with cancer have equal opportunity to today’s novel treatment modalities. As a member of Mirati’s Clinical Research Collaborations team, I have the unique opportunity to advocate for community-based health organizations, utilizing their shared perspectives to inform and develop innovative initiatives to support equitable access to clinical trials.

Q: What are some of the initiatives Mirati is pushing forward to ensure diversity in clinical trials?

A: At Mirati, awareness and understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion are necessary to ensure diversity in clinical trials. To that end, Mirati has an established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee. We focus our DEI efforts on three key pillars – people, culture, and community. The People pillar champions the integration and engagement of diverse people and leaders. The remit of the culture committee is to build cultural awareness and competency through employee engagement experiences that promote advocacy and foster a sense of belonging. The mission statement of the community pillar is to create sustainable partnerships based on common DEI values. The community pillar listens to the concerns and needs of the community to inform Mirati on how to support best equitable access to clinical trials and drug development that supports entire impacted populations. These efforts include understanding barriers to clinical trials and career development initiatives to ensure diversity amongst tomorrow’s healthcare providers because representation matters.

Mirati is committed to taking a more proactive approach to addressing equitable access to clinical trials. As a result, we have established a Diversity Reporting Task Force dedicated to supporting our study teams with the development of formal diversity plans in compliance with FDA guidelines. The Diversity Reporting Task Force allows the company to launch enterprise-wide standard methods and sustainable internal processes that support diversity in clinical trials.

Q: Can you briefly explain the DEI committee’s goal at Mirati and how it connects to your remit in Clinical Research Collaborations?

A: The Mirati DEI Committee is a diverse, cross-functional group comprised of colleagues at all levels of the organization working to develop and promote initiatives that drive diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, and representation. There is significant data on the importance of diverse populations in drug development. However, as an industry, we must consistently gather insights and perspectives from community stakeholders and, more importantly, utilize them to inform strategy. With the recent FDA mandates and guidance for diversity, we are seeing more commitment to support community engagement across the industry. Mirati understands the importance of applying a public health lens to clinical research and the need to be aware and understand the role social determinants of health may impact equitable access to cancer care. As part of Mirati’s DEI committee, the community pillar is relentlessly focused on community engagement and can leverage the knowledge and partnerships stood up by the Clinical Research Collaborations team. It is an honor to serve as part of Mirati’s Clinical Research Collaborations team, where the focus is to build collaborations that support patients living with cancer access to novel therapeutics close to home and their social support network.

Q: What is the Mission of the Clinical Trial Diversity Reporting Task Force at Mirati, and what does it consist of?

A: Along with compliance with the FDA guidance, the Clinical Trial Diversity Reporting Task Force supports clinical study teams (CST) by providing a framework to consider when building diversity plans for all pivotal studies at Mirati. We create a best practice guide to ensure diversity through informing site selection, novel recruitment models, and other interventions to solve for diversity. Mirati can closely monitor our innovative initiatives through this task force to ensure equal access to our clinical trials.

Q: From your perspective, what are the most significant barriers to health equity, specifically for cancer patients?

A: The most significant barriers to health equity are awareness and access. In this age of precision oncology and the critical role of cancer epigenetics, all patients living with cancer must have fair and equal information on their cancer diagnosis, available treatment options, lifestyle management, and fair and equal access to eligible clinical trial opportunities of their choosing, to name a few. For too long, the pharmaceutical industry has credited feelings of distrust as an impasse to equality in cancer care. Pharmaceutical companies can earn trust. It requires acknowledging patients and their community as critical stakeholders in the clinical research journey. Patients and their community must have an equal seat at the table during the development, implementation, and data analysis phase of clinical trials to effectively analyze cultural and communication gaps and social determinants of health that are key to addressing barriers to health equity. It is time to shift the conversation and for the industry to listen and hold itself accountable to the needs of all communities.

Q: What does World Clinical Trial Day mean to you?

A: World Clinical Trial Day is an opportunity to celebrate our achievements as an industry. Today, seeing our pharma colleagues innovatively advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in clinical research is refreshing. The work has only begun. World Clinical Trial Day is equally an opportunity to reflect on the need for continued work in the health equity space and to drive initiatives that can have a visible impact in a collaborative process with industry, regulatory, site, and community colleagues.