Novartis and the Novartis US Foundation have announced a decade-long pledge to work with more than two dozen historically black colleges, universities, medical schools, and other institutions to address root causes of racial disparities in health, research, and education. The collaboration reportedly will strive to create actionable solutions to address systemic racism typically behind inequity, to work toward greater equality across the research and development ecosystem.
Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said racial inequity in research and care is a complex problem with many causes, requiring effort on many fronts to solve.
“It will take the concerted, urgent action of diverse stakeholders across the public and private sectors,” said Narasimhan. “We are honored and humbled to work together with these organizations to build enduring solutions to some of the most pressing, deeply rooted, and historic challenges in the US, and we invite other like-minded companies and organizations to join us in creating this paradigm shift in health equity.”
The collaboration involves Coursera, the National Medical Association, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Morehouse School of Medicine, and 26 additional historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as well as medical schools. Leaders from the organizations reportedly will work to build trust in the healthcare system with communities of color, improve access to education and industry jobs, address inherent bias in research, and more.
The pledge includes a $13.7m USD investment by the Novartis US Foundation to establish three digitally enabled research centers at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, including a clinical trial center of excellence. The collaborators hope the trial center could serve as a model to be duplicated at other HBCU medical schools, to increase inclusivity among investigators and patient participants.
Additionally, the foundation intends to invest approximately $20m USD, geared toward preparing up to 1,200 Black and African American students to become health, science, technology, and business leaders. The $20m investment is made possible through a collaboration with the Thurgood Marshall College (San Diego) Fund.
The collaborators report that over an initial 10 years, the effort will focus on four primary areas:
- Creating equitable access to education and professional development for future leaders in health science, technology, and business-related fields.
- Establishing digitally enabled clinical trial centers of excellence, managed and led by clinical researchers of color.
- Supporting the establishment of Digitally Enabled Clinical Trial Centers of Excellence, managed and led by clinical researchers of color.
- Investigating and validating existing data standards that drive diagnosis, clinical trial endpoints, and population health policy.
- Establishing Digitally Enabled Research Centers on the impact of the environment and climate change on health.
For the first six months, the parties will work toward creating programs, collaborating closely with the impacted communities. Each organization is charged with bringing its own expertise and resources to design and implement enduring solutions in these areas.
“Health equity is not only accessible healthcare for patients, but developing educational and professional opportunities to create a diverse pipeline of educators, clinicians, and other professionals, as well as ensuring all are included in clinical studies,” said Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and CEO of the Morehouse School of Medicine. “This is a first of its kind collaboration and Morehouse School of Medicine is excited to work with Novartis and this coalition of medical schools, colleges, universities, and other leading companies and organizations to create centers of excellence for clinical trials, data standards research, and environment and health research; we know that real change starts here, when work is done to make a significant impact on representation and inclusion.”
Health disparities impacting minority communities tend to be highlighted in statistics on how such populations are affected by specific diseases and conditions. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen higher rates of hospitalization and death in patients from the Black community and other minority groups.
Additionally, compared with non-Hispanic white patients, Black and African American people in the US have a lower life expectancy, higher mortality rate from cancer, greater likelihood of many diseases (including asthma), and significantly higher rates of infant and maternal mortality. Further, health inequity extends to Black and African American underrepresentation across medical systems, among clinical investigators, medical students, and physicians, as well as among trial participants.
“Black and African American people endured education and health disparities in the US long before the COVID-19 pandemic," said Patrice Matchaba, Novartis US Foundation president. “Their exclusion from the research and development ecosystem has resulted in mistrust and a delayed uptake of life-saving innovative medicines and effective care models, further exacerbating racial disparities in care and outcomes; we are proud to come together to take our direction from Black and African American community members and other minority groups on programs that will help achieve sustained change.”
The HBCU partnership reportedly aligns with Novartis’s Commitment to Diversity in Clinical Trials. For more information about the initiative, visit bit.ly/3xSuwQZ .