As National Hispanic Heritage Month has recently concluded, I am reflecting on the Hispanic Health Summit, hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of its National Hispanic Heritage Month event series. Secretary Xavier Becerra highlighted the need for collective action to improve equity and access to health care in the Hispanic community.
Challenges in health care access for people of Hispanic and Latino descent in the U.S. include socioeconomic status, high levels of uninsurance, and a lack of inclusion in all aspects of the health innovation ecosystem.
At the ARPA-H Hispanic Health Innovations Symposium in September, panelists encouraged a rethinking of how clinical trial sites are chosen to ensure that underserved populations are represented. Barriers to participation can be removed when challenges voiced by the community are addressed, such as childcare, transportation, and meals.
As a woman scientist who is half Mexican and half Filipina, I am keenly aware of underrepresentation in innovation, entrepreneurship, and health equity. For example, reference human genome databases and stem cell banks are skewed: over 95% of participants in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are of European ancestry, and most pluripotent stem cell lines in large-scale collections are derived from donors of European ancestry.
Nor does participation in clinical trials represent real-world patient diversity: non-Hispanic whites comprise 78% of participants enrolled in U.S. trial sites. In health care delivery, access to life-saving bone marrow transplants is not equitable: a white person has a 79% chance of finding a matched donor in the bone marrow registry, compared to a Black person with only a 29% chance. The most recent statistics on Filipino donors indicate that only 0.5% of the national donor registry is comprised of Filipino Americans.
Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that people of two or more races will be the fastest growing racial group over the next several decades. These disparities mean that new health care innovations may not be safe or effective for most of the people on the planet, further underscoring the need for therapies that are effective for people of all backgrounds.
In parallel, we are entering a new frontier in health care, in which living medicines – cells – are being used to treat and even cure cancers, age-related degenerative diseases, and rare genetic disorders. At Cellino, we are building an ultra-scalable biomanufacturing platform to industrialize production of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
Our goal is to democratize access to personalized regenerative medicines, in which the therapeutic product is manufactured using a patient’s own cells, obviating the need for a donor match. I was excited to hear from Secretary Xavier Becerra that he believes personalization is one of the keys to ensuring widespread and equitable access to novel therapeutic modalities.
With the right biomanufacturing platform in place, your cells can provide your cures. It’s equally important to ensure that everyone feels included in the process of developing, testing, and commercializing these and all health innovations.