By Ruth Umoh
The pandemic has exposed the gaping divide in health outcomes for white Americans and people of color, with Black people accounting for a higher share of Covid-19 deaths across all ages.
Spurred by national civil rights protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May, several corporations have publicly denounced racism and pledged to advance their diversity and inclusion initiatives. American drugmaker Bristol Myers Squibb became the latest company to do so on Wednesday morning, announcing that it will commit $300 million over the next five years to tackle racial health disparities and accelerate its diversity and inclusion efforts.
“We recognize the urgent need to do more to address serious gaps in care among the underserved in communities around the world,” the biopharma company’s CEO and chairman Giovanni Caforio said in a press release. “This commitment reflects our belief that investments toward achieving health equity, and increasing diversity and inclusion are opportunities to advance our vision of transforming patients’ lives through science.”
Internally, Bristol Myers will focus on increasing its workforce representation. It set targets to achieve global gender parity at the executive level and double the executive representation of Black and Latino workers in the U.S. by 2022. Its nonprofit arm, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, will double U.S. and Puerto Rico employee donations to organizations dedicated to promoting racial equality and social justice, beginning September.Recommended For You
The drugmaker will also expand its supplier diversity program and plans to spend $1 billion globally with minority-owned businesses by 2025.
Drug prices are an incessant barrier for Black adults in the U.S. who need prescription medication. Bristol Myers said that that part of its investment will go toward subsidizing or completely covering the cost of any Bristol Myers Squibb branded medication for at-risk communities through its Patient Assistance Foundation, and working with key advocates to disseminate information on disease awareness and prevention.
Promoting inclusive research and diverse clinical trials will also be at the forefront of the drugmaker’s multimillion dollar commitment. Black people represent nearly 14% of the U.S. population, yet they make up only 5% of clinical trial participants. Similarly, people of Hispanic origin make up 18% of the U.S. population but just 1% of clinical trial participants.
The lack of diversity in clinical research can have grave ramifications. Certain blood thinners, for instance, have been found to be less effective at preventing blood clots in Black patients than in their white counterparts. Such disparities in drug reactions can be caught during the experimentation phase if people of color are able to participate.
To that end, Bristol Myers will extend the reach of its clinical trials into geographic regions that support underserved communities, allowing medical providers to narrow racial gaps in treatment, learn more about these patients’ needs and improve access to care and medicine in these “clinical trial deserts.” As part of its initiative to diversify clinical research, Bristol Myers will train 250 racially and ethnically diverse investigators though a workforce development program.
“Clinical trial diversity needs acceleration,” said Samit Hirawat, the company’s chief medical officer. “We see tremendous opportunity for longer-term, sustainable impact by supporting ethnically diverse physician-scientists to engage in clinical research while also establishing clinical research sites in diverse communities.”
Originally posted on Forbes