USC Receives Award to Improve Diversity and Efficiency of Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials

A USC initiative aimed at increasing access and reducing inequalities in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has received a three-year, $3.5 million gift from Gates Ventures.

Launched last year with funding from Gates Ventures, USC’s Clinical Trial Recruitment Lab (CTRL) pilots and evaluates innovative ideas to boost Alzheimer’s awareness and recruit more people of diverse backgrounds to clinical trials. Lack of representation in Alzheimer’s clinical trials can widen health disparities experienced by people of color. Black and Hispanic people are at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

The gift will allow CTRL to fund three pilot projects – with more to come – that test novel approaches to tackle this issue:

  • Amanda Boyd, Associate Professor at Washington State University, will explore whether culturally tailored recruitment materials can improve AD clinical trial participation among American Indian and Alaska Native adults.
  • Hamid Okhravi, Associate Professor of Geriatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School, will test whether group screenings in convenient community settings, compared to a standard individual screening approach, can increase the enrollment rate of Black adults.
  • Dung Trinh, Chief Medical Officer of Healthy Brain Clinic, a dedicated Alzheimer’s clinical trial site, will examine whether community pharmacies can help improve screening and recruitment from underserved communities in Southern California.
Dr. Hamid Okhravi’s group screening project

CTRL is a collaboration between the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and USC’s Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute. The lab previously received $5.8 million from Gates Ventures and the American Heart Association, bringing its total funding to $9.3 million.

The rate of innovation in the treatment of Alzheimer’s has been slow, and research shows that AD clinical trials are frequently delayed due to slow patient enrollment, long follow-up periods, and higher costs compared with trials in other therapeutic areas. The recruitment and retention of diverse volunteers to participate in clinical research studies remains a key barrier.

To address these challenges, CTRL coordinates resources and expertise from academia, industry, and philanthropy to conduct pilot projects, disseminates findings and shares best practices on recruitment strategies. The lab aims to fund additional pilot programs in the future, and if pilots are successful, they can be scaled and inform policies that support wider implementation. CTRL also plans to convene researchers involved in AD clinical trials.

“Making progress against Alzheimer’s requires advancing therapeutic development—especially among the populations hardest hit by the epidemic,” said Dana Goldman, co-director of the USC Schaeffer Center and Dean of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and C. Erwin & Ione L. Piper Chair. “We are grateful Gates Ventures has continued to support CTRL on our mission to improve the diversity and speed of clinical trials.”

The number of Americans older than 65 with Alzheimer’s dementia is projected to nearly double to 13.8 million by 2060. Yet, just 1% of eligible individuals are enrolled in clinical trials for potential AD therapies, according to research from the Schaeffer Center, a partnership between the USC Price School and Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. What’s more, Black and Hispanic people are frequently underrepresented in AD clinical trials, despite their higher risk for AD.

“People respond differently to therapies and trial participation from groups underrepresented in Alzheimer’s clinical research is key to finding therapies that work for everyone,” said Desi Peneva, who leads the Clinical Trial Recruitment Lab. “CTRL’s mission is to accelerate clinical development by testing novel trial recruitment and retention strategies, disseminating findings and sharing best practices.”