An institute to improve Hispanic health
Fewer than 8 percent of clinical trial enrollees are Hispanic and less than 1 percent are enrolled in NIH-funded research, even though they make up 17.8 percent of the national population and are the nation’s largest ethnic/racial minority. This lack of representation means that clinical trials may not provide accurate results for the Hispanic population, who may have genetic or cultural factors that cause medical interventions to affect them differently. One of the goals of the Global Institute for Hispanic Health (GIHH) is to increase this representation in clinical trials. Launched in 2016 as a collaboration between The Texas A&M University System and Driscoll Children’s Hospital, GIHH brings researchers, clinicians and communities together.
Clinical trials determine safety and efficacy while looking for potential drug interactions, and this is where GIHH works to make a difference. Due to underrepresentation of Hispanics, clinical trials are limited in knowing the safety and efficacy of drugs that prevent or treat conditions in this ethnic group. Improving access to clinical trials will make results more scientifically valid, and thereby should make sure the intervention will be more applicable for the greater population.
“The Global Institute for Hispanic Health is a collaboration between our researchers and clinicians at Driscoll Children’s Hospital who have a common goal—improve the health of Hispanic populations and assist individuals with unique health problems. We are creating strategies to eliminate health care disparities and have already funded several projects,” said Carrie Byington, MD, vice chancellor for health services at The Texas A&M University System, senior vice president of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine and executive committee member.
GIHH provides seed grants to research health needs in South Texas, such as diabetes, obesity, asthma, infectious diseases and kidney disease. Thus far, four projects have received funding. Research teams are composed of clinicians from Driscoll Children’s Hospital or Driscoll Health Plan and scientists from The Texas A&M University System.
Headquartered at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, the institute’s outreach expands to all of South Texas with specialty clinics in Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, Laredo and Victoria. The partnership aligns Texas A&M’s involvement with other initiatives, such as Healthy South Texas, which focuses on preventive health care for diabetes, asthma and infectious diseases.
“Getting the right clinical information in appropriate patient populations is vital for researchers to better understand health and disease and to ensure that clinical trials work for all Americans. As Hispanic participation in drug trials is significantly low, we identified this platform—the GIHH—to help address the issue,” said Indra K. Reddy, PhD, founding dean and professor at Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy and executive committee member. “As Texas has a large Hispanic population, this institute helps us recruit a representative population to expropriate the data for the overall population. This partnership really needed to happen; this is a game-changer, it leverages our existing strengths in basic and clinical sciences.”
Clinical trials are the final stage of complex drug development and delivery systems. It takes 12 to 13 years on average, costing $2.6 billion, from the time that a drug is discovered to Food and Drug Administration approval. Clinical trials account for approximately 80 to 90 percent of this total cost.
“We are trying to expand the Hispanic population’s reach to clinical studies,” said Jaime Fergie, MD, medical director. “Many times, Hispanics are not in an area where institutional medical research is taking place, and we are trying to change that. I am optimistic, as I have noticed great enthusiasm on both the academic and clinical sides of the partnership.”
A specific community’s genetics, lifestyle and risk factors must be assessed if it’s to benefit from clinical research. GIHH has both academics and clinicians who can properly assess patients, combining practical and theoretical knowledge. In other words, basic science researchers have access to those with clinical experience, and clinicians can collaborate with academics who have with experience in population research.
“The advances in medicine are dependent on the willingness of the population to participate in the biomedical research,” Fergie said. “We need the Hispanic population to participate, the drugs sometimes do not work the same among each ethnic group. We want every ethnic group to be represented, and that’s our reason for being here. This is just beginning, and I am looking forward to the results.”