New Black-Owned Tech Venture Helps Minorities Know What to Expect When Taking Medications
The website, Drugviu, aims to make it easier for people of color – including multiracial individuals – to find out what to expect when they take medications for specific diagnoses from people who look like them.
Nationwide -- Whenever taking medication, one naturally assumes the treatment will work. After all, the medication’s effectiveness is based on years of clinical trials. However, this may not always be the case if you’re a person of color.
Historically, participants in clinical trials tended to be white men. Then in 1993, Congress passed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act to increase the number of women and minorities in clinical trials. However, clinical trials still lack adequate representation of people of color. For instance, one study found “less than 2 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s clinical trials focus on any racial/minority population as their primary emphasis.”
This underrepresentation may be harmful because ineffective medicine can have life or death consequences.
“Even though we are all human, and hence biologically the same, genetic variants still exist among different racial groups. If you are not studying enough of these groups of people, you may be missing out on a few things,” says Kwaku Owusu, a 2016 Arch Grant recipient and co-founder of Drugviu.com – a website he launched in February 2019 with fellow Arch Grant winner, Melanie Igwe after hearing the disparity of minorities in clinical studies at a FDA meeting. The site, Owusu says, “aims to make it easier for people of color – including multiracial individuals – to find out what to expect when they take medications for specific diagnoses from people who look like them.”
He gives the medication Plavix, which is used to help prevent strokes and heart attacks, as an example. “Seventy-five percent of Pacific Islanders do not have an enzyme that allows them to absorb [Plavix]. So, for them, this medication is essentially just a sugar pill. Also, many of the common asthma medications don’t really work for black children.”
Although the FDA has been trying to solve this underrepresentation issue for a while, it still has limitations. Owusu explains, “Even if you make every clinical trial with a proportionate number of minorities, it still won’t address the medications that are already on the market.” After the FDA meeting, filling this gap became his passion project.
Enter Drugviu, on which users can review their experiences with medications – if it was effective or not, or if they experienced any side effects. For quality control, Owusu and Igwe also collect reviews through community engagement at places like churches or nursing homes.
Eventually, they hope to gather information online. Then, they compare these self-reports to the data from the FDA, CDC, NIH, a physician, a pharmacist, and an expert with a Ph.D. in computational chemistry. Owusu and Igwe hope to find trends among different minority groups and see if any previously unknown side effects emerge within specific groups.
Right now, the website focuses on diagnoses which have higher prevalence rates among people of color or conditions with limited research on minorities. In addition to physical illnesses, it also has mental diagnoses, which Owusu argues is just as important. “You don’t shame someone if they break their leg or have cancer. The brain is just another body part,” he says.
In addition to the reviews, Drugviu provides information about the syndromes to educate people visiting their website. Another feature: Through a partnership with Blink Health, Drugbiu users can receive up to 80 percent off medication.
“We are doing this to change the dialogue of health care,” Owusu says. “We are building Drugviu as a platform to empower communities of color to use their own reported data to get better health care.”