Microsoft developing database to diversify clinical trials

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Microsoft ($MSFT) is applying its database know-how to one of the big, long-standing problems of clinical trials--a lack of minority participation. The tech giant is turning data gathered by the National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF) into a searchable national archive to support the diversification of trials.

The tendency for clinical trials to recruit a disproportionate number of white men has concerned the industry for years. Over-reliance on data from one section of the population means clinical trials may overlook how age, gender and ethnicity affect reactions to therapies. Without this diversity, trials could miss population-specific side effects or health benefits.

Eli Lilly ($LLY), AstraZeneca ($AZN) and the U.S. Congress have all tried to tackle the problem, but NMQF thinks the National Clinical Trial Network (NCTN) it is building with Microsoft can offer something new. "What makes the NCTN platform unique is it will provide an interactive, communications portal linking researchers to practicing physicians whose diversity of patients may be candidates for clinical trials," Gary Puckrein, CEO of the NMQF, said.

Users can search through a database of active and potential clinical trial investigators--as well as their institutions--to identify practices with communities that might help diversify a clinical trial. Physicians have traditionally recruited low numbers of minorities. And inadequate involvement of minority investigators is also often cited as a reason for low recruitment numbers. A 2008 paper in the Journal of the National Medicine Association found that lack of awareness of available trials limited the research participation of 43% of African-American physicians. If the database cuts that number, minority participation in trials could rise.

NMQF has a database of 800 million patient files, and this will form part of the Microsoft project. When it goes live in the fourth quarter of 2013, the NCTN will provide community-level health statistics to help researchers identify populations who might benefit from a clinical trial. The database will store data from patient registries and biobanks too.

- here's the press release
- check out the 2008 research paper (PDF)

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