Howard University, one of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the US, has forged a partnership with healthcare company Abbott geared toward increasing the diversity of clinical research personnel. The company gifted the university with $1m USD to fund a scholarship fund for medical students interested in clinical research careers, part of a larger initiative to drive diversity in research.
As part of its larger initiative to reduce barriers to access and enhance clinical trial diversity, Abbott reportedly is dedicating $5m USD for establishing scholarships over the next five years at HBCUs and minority nursing associations. The Howard University gift will cover eight scholarships of $25,000 USD each, to be granted between 2022 and 2025.
Hugh Mighty, Howard University’s dean of the College of Medicine and senior vice president for health affairs, said inequities in care are closely tied to underrepresentation in research.
“We’ve known for some time that the most critical health disparities in our communities are related to the lack of diversity and representation in clinical trials,” Mighty said. “Thanks to the generous gift from Abbott, we are positioning Howard to train the next generation of minority physicians to become clinical trial leaders, greatly improving the effectiveness of health care, therapies, and medicines for communities of color.”
Individuals from communities of color currently comprise more than 25% of the US population but less than 5% of enrolled clinical trial patients, despite being disproportionally affected by cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other conditions. This gap in representation in trial enrollment complicates other health equity challenges and constricts options for patients dealing with health conditions.
“The best health care product is a product that helps the most people, providing the greatest benefit; as an industry, we need to set new standards to make sure that our clinical trials remain representative of the people our products are designed to help,” said Robert Ford, president and CEO of Abbott. “We want to continue to break down both existing and emerging barriers to participation in clinical trials so we can help more people have greater access to therapies that have the potential to change lives.”
Representation of minority populations (in patient populations as well as among research professionals and other aspects of healthcare) is an area that study professionals and sponsors frequently target for improvement. For example, in July, Novartis announced an initiative to help elevate equity in clinical research and patient care.
Abbott also announced plans to gather patient advocates, industry experts, trial professionals, and a diverse group of physician thought leaders. The goal of bringing such individuals together reportedly is to help develop and release an open-source perspective to highlight key learnings around increasing clinical trial diversity across the health tech industry.
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university consisting of 14 different schools and colleges. The institution offers students more than 140 programs of study to pursue their undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees.