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Bristol Myers Seeks to Diversify Trials With $300 Million Pledge

Friday, August 14, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Alisha Brown
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Bristol Myers Squibb Co. will train hundreds of racially and ethnically diverse clinical investigators and set up trial sites in under-served communities as a part of a multimillion-dollar push to improve the way it serves minorities.

The combined $300 million in commitments are part of a broad five-year effort to expand its diversity and inclusion efforts announced on Wednesday by the pharmaceutical company and its foundation. A primary focus will be improving diversity in clinical-trial participation, Chief Executive Officer Giovanni Caforio said in an interview.

The drug industry has long received scrutiny for the under-representation of Black and Latino participants in clinical trials. Recent racial-justice protests across the U.S. have sharpened such criticisms. The diversity gap was again brought to light by news that while Covid-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color, studies of potential treatments and vaccines have thus far relied on largely White test pools.

“The inequalities brought to the surface by Covid, together with the social events that have happened over the last few months, we understood it was a turning point,” Caforio said. “We decided it needed to be a turning point for us as well.”

Trust between patients and the health-care researchers and providers can be strained when there’s no link with the local community, according to Ivelyse Andino, a health-tech entrepreneur who first started her career in the pharmaceutical industry. Her company, Radical Health, is working with the Mount Sinai Health System to train medical students on how to treat those from their own neighborhoods.

“Whether its the Bronx or Appalachia, we don’t have enough researchers and providers who reflect their own community,” she said.

Bristol Myers, which is based in New York City, will take a ground-up approach to accomplish that by training and developing 250 racially and ethnically diverse clinical investigators through a five-year fellowship program. The company’s top executives believe that will ultimately lead trial participants to better reflect the composition of the country, and lead to better outcomes for those with high-burden of disease.

“There is a really critical element of trust that can be built through a relationship with a diverse investigator,” Caforio said. “That could have a really significant long term impact, particularly for a Black patient, or someone who has not had well-organized free access to health-care system.”

Bristol Myers will institute 25% more trial centers in under-served communities spanning urban and rural America in 2021, according to Chief Medical Officer Samit Hirawat.

“Where a patient lives should not dictate whether they can participate in a clinical trial or not,” Hirawat said.

Internal Changes

Bristol Myers, which closed on the largest pharmaceutical deal in history with the $74 billion acquisition of Celgene Corp. in November, is also seeking to improve its internal diversity. It set a target of doubling the executive representation of Black and Latino employees in the U.S. by 2022. That’s up from 8% of the current top leadership. The drugmaker, which achieved gender parity in its workforce in 2015, will also seek to expand gender parity at the executive level globally in the same time-frame.

Last month, Bristol Myers hired two new independent directors to its board — Paula A. Price and Derica W. Rice — taking it off the list of large companies lacking a single Black board member.

“I think establishing representation goals in our mind should almost be the last step in a multipronged strategy,” Caforio said, noting that the hiring process needs to have more diversity in recruiting, candidates and the panel that evaluates them.

The company also plans to increase its spending on minority-owned, diverse businesses globally to $1 billion 2025, according to Wednesday’s announcement. That includes identifying and collaborating with new third-party manufacturers, contract research organizations and producers of pharmaceutical ingredients, Caforio said.

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