When a startup is able to create both a B2B and a B2C solution, you know the team is working on something unique.
But when that startup is also addressing health inequities within clinical trials, it’s clear that startup is essential.
As a digital health company, Huntsville-based Acclinate works to engage and educate the biotech world about the importance of diverse representation in medical research and clinical trials. Co-founders Del Smith P.h.D and Tiffany Jordan-Whitlow are “redesigning and creating a new industry standard for the way clinical trials are run and how genetic testing happens.”
The issue is deeply personal Smith and Whitlow, who both have stories about how a lack of testing and health resources impacted their families. On the community level, a lack of diversity in clinical trials leads to devastating consequences. While racial and ethnic minorities make up 40% of the US population, they only represent 2% of those participating in clinical trials.
This can lead to drug development that doesn’t actually work for all people. As an example, albuterol, commonly used to treat asthma, is 47% less effective in minority and Black communities, and 67% less effective in the Puerto Rican community. “That really sparked me to say ‘how many other drugs are we consuming, and just assuming they work the same way?’, even though they are much less effective [in minority communities],” said Whitlow.
While Acclinate launched before COVID, the pandemic put a spotlight on disparities within pharmaceutical and medical clinical trials. But their B2C platform Now Included is working to make sure individuals are connected with important content and resources about being part of crucial medical research.
To date, “[clinical trials] haven’t been equal, and the numbers show that,” Whitlow pointed out. “We created a better model to do this work, and relationships are essential. It is our social responsibility as minorities to design this in such a way that people see themselves in the solution. If you want me to be a consumer of your drugs, I need to understand your process.”
For pharmaceutical companies, Acclinate is building a database of potential participants and is using AI to ensure individuals are not only the right fit for a trial, but that minority groups are well represented in such trials. e-DICT (Enhanced Diversity in Clinical Trials), is Acclinate’s HIPAA-compliant predictive analytics platform designed to identify and engage a larger group of potential participants for genomic and clinical trials.
“We know the system doesn’t work effectively if you just ask people to show up for a trial — because it’s transactional.”
Addressing medical trials in Alabama will, of course, bring up Tuskegee Syphilis Study’s long and dark shadow on American history. Mistrust among minority groups around the forthcoming COVID vaccine stems from such unethical moments in medical history, and also from the fact that still today Black and brown communities are vastly underrepresented in the pharmaceutical development process.
But from its Alabama headquarters, Acclinate is looking to change that narrative. In fact, they are expanding within the state itself with a new office in Birmingham.
As the Acclinate team looked to open another office outside of ‘Rocket City,’ they had several biotech hubs, like Texas and New York, vying for their attention. But ultimately, “Birmingham stepped up,” said Smith.
It was Birmingham’s focus on healthcare, technology, and minority-founded businesses that helped seal the deal for opening a new office in the Denham Building.
“For founders early on figuring out, ‘is this right? Can we do this, and do we have the support?’ — to know that you are walking into a whole entire community in Birmingham that supports you, that’s probably the most rewarding and fulfilling.”
The team is also bringing on a CTO and looking towards bigger partnerships with CROs (contract research organizations) and pharmaceutical companies in the new year.