American pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb and its Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation have announced a $300 million investment as part of a series of commitments to address health disparities and increase clinical trials diversity, which includes more inclusiveness in the vendor ecosystem as well as more opportunity for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino representation at all levels within the company, including the development of a minority principal investigator program., BMS is on the move to contribute to a more equitable, dynamic, and diverse research ecosystem.
Use of Funds
The pair will use the $300 million health equity investment to focus on raising disease awareness and education, increase health care access and improve health outcomes for medically underserved populations.
Diversification of Clinical Trials
TrialSite comments often on the lack of diverse participation in the research ecosystem and how underlying structural and systemic forces recreate the same inequities time and time again. Until underlying inequities are legitimately addressed, it’s difficult to develop, nurture, and build the enduring trust required for sustained results in the area of diverse research participation.
Now BMS appears to be taking a fresh approach to the familiar problem. By focusing on building “clinical trials infrastructure in diverse communities and high disease burden areas, in the U.S” while in parallel “increasing the diversity of investigators through a fellowship program over five years,” BMS is perhaps the first big pharmaceutical company to acknowledge the true investment needs to change the situation. It will require more than $300 million, but if the BMS program triggers comparable programs in other major pharmaceutical companies, the impact could certainly be material over the next several years.
Bristol Myers Squibb expanded its patient support program to offer aid to those who lost their insurance benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, tens of millions of people lost their jobs and associated health insurance coverage. BMS is aware of the severe social and health disparities in the U.S. that increase the risk of infection and poorer health outcomes for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino communities.
In the company’s press release, they included the following key commitments:
Diversify adding 250 Principal Investigators over the next 5 Years
Extend the reach of clinical trials into diverse communities, both urban and rural. In part, BMS will achieve this via the BMS Foundation by training and developing 250 new investigators out of diverse communities. Samit Hirawat, MD, chief medical officer for BMS, declared in their press release, “Clinical trials diversity needs acceleration. 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.” Dr. Hirawat emphasized the five-year plan to recruit 250 racially and ethnically diverse principal investigators who work in diverse communities of color.
Strengthening health equity work across the business
Here BMS commits to “accelerate” efforts to reach and connect with at-risk patients to include what are fairly standard approaches for this type of activity, including disease awareness, education programs, and information about the company’s programs for those that cannot afford medication. The company also declares that it will “continue to advocate for policies that promote health equity.”
Invest in Diverse Supplier Ecosystem
Here BMS is starting to think ahead, further thinking about how the $1 billion company spend by 2024 can impact minority groups. For example, Black and Hispanic owned businesses that create local jobs and generate positive economic impact in diverse communities.
Commitment to diversity in the workforce
BMS understands it all starts from within the organization. How can a call for diversity be credible if organizations involved with drug development don’t build such dynamics and values into the culture directly? As TrialSite has been critical of ACTIV (despite the incredible collection of brilliant and accomplished individuals), there is little diversity in not only race/ethnicity but also in terms of representation from the clinic. This, unfortunately, is the case with many well-intentioned endeavors in research. The intentions for diversity are real, but due to a confluence of historical and present-day factors, circumstances, and elements, the organization’s leadership and workforces aren’t as diversified as the target goals for others.
BMS calls out the changing demographics and the need to prepare for a workforce
Bristol Myers Squibb is on the record. Now, the company understands the correlation between its own practices involving diversity and the marketplace for research, whether that be investigational sites, staff, or patients. The company reports that it achieved “gender parity across its workforce in 2015.” By 2022, they aim to achieve gender parity at the executive level globally. Moreover, they report in the recent press release that they will double the levels of Black and Latino executives and employees in America.
Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation Expands employee giving program
Moving forward, BMS Foundation will provide a 2-to-1 match for U.S. employee donations to organizations that fight health disparities and discrimination
BMS reports that its foundation has over 100 active grantee projects around the world, contributing to improved access to care and support as well as health outcomes, reaching nearly 1.5 million people. Giovanni Caforio, MD, chairman, and chief executive officer of the company reports, “Our company has a long history of addressing disparities as part of our overall mission to serve patients with serious disease” commenting, “Now more than ever, we recognize the urgent need to do more to address serious gaps in care among the underserved communities around the world.”