Diversity in Medical Device Clinical Trials: Do We Know What Works for Which Patients?

Original Scholarship

Policy Points:

  • A 1993 law required the National Institutes of Health to include women and racial and ethnic minorities in relevant research studies. Most federal health agencies adopted the same policy, but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not.
  • A 2012 law encouraged the FDA to ensure that new medical products be analyzed for safety and effectiveness for key demographic patient groups.
  • Our study of high-risk medical devices reviewed by the FDA in 2014-2017 found that due to lack of patient diversity and publicly available data, clinicians and patients often cannot determine which devices are safe and effective for specific demographic groups.

Context: Demographic differences can influence the safety and effectiveness of medical devices; however, clinical trials of devices for adults have historically underrepresented women, people of color, and patients over age 65. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Safety and Innovation Act became law in 2012, encouraging greater diversity and subgroup analyses. In 2013, the FDA reported that there was diversity in clinical trials considered “pivotal” for approval decisions and that subgroup analyses were conducted for most applications for the highest-risk medical devices. However, the FDA’s report did not specify whether analyses included sufficient numbers to be meaningful, whether analyses were conducted for most major subgroups, or whether analyses included safety, effectiveness, or accuracy.

Methods: We examined publicly available documents for all 22 medical devices that the FDA designated “highest risk” or “novel,” were reviewed through the premarket approval pathway, and were scrutinized at FDA public meetings from 2014 to 2017.We evaluated patient demographics and subgroup analyses for all pivotal trials.

Findings: Only 3 (14%) of the devices provided subgroup analyses for both effectiveness and safety or both sensitivity and selectivity for gender, race, and age. However, 55% of the devices reported both of those subgroup analyses for at least 1 of the 3 subgroups. Whether analyses were reported or not, the number of patients in most subgroups was too small to draw meaningful conclusions. Subgroup analyses were more likely to be reported to the FDA’s Advisory Committees than in the FDA’s public reviews or labeling.

Conclusions: Despite a law encouraging more diversity and subgroup analyses in pivotal trials used as the basis for FDA approval, the results of our study indicate relatively few subgroup analyses are publicly available for the highest-risk and novel medical devices. The lack of subgroup analyses makes it impossible to inform patients or physicians as to whether many newly approved medical devices are safe and effective for specific demographic subgroups defined by gender, race, and age.

Keywords: US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), clinical trials, device approval, diversity, subgroup analysis.

Read on Wiley Online Library

Volume 96, Issue 3 (pages 499-529)
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12344
Published in 2018