Genentech funnels $12m into increasing health care diversity

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(Serhii Brovko/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(Serhii Brovko/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags Genentech Roche diversity Patient centricity patient engagement Clinical trial

Through its Health Equity and Diversity in STEM Innovation Fund, the biotech is looking to increase equity in care and diversify the scientific workforce.

Genentech (a subsidiary of Roche) and its Genentech Foundation have announced plans to invest more than $12m USD in a range of initiatives designed to mitigate racism and inequity in the life sciences. Via its 2022 Health Equity and Diversity in STEM Innovation Fund​, the company is taking an equity-focused approach to removing barriers patients of color face in healthcare, prioritizing initiatives led by people from those communities.

For this first of a two-part series, Outsourcing-Pharma connected with Rajni Dronamraju (Genentech’s senior director of charitable giving) to talk about the company’s unique approach to giving back. Tomorrow, OSP will discuss the importance of equity in clinical trial participation with one of the fund’s grant recipients.

OSP: Could you please share the ‘elevator description’ of Genentech—who you are, what you do, key capabilities, and what makes you different from other organizations working in this sphere?

RD: Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, was founded over 45 years ago as the first biotechnology company and is dedicated to pursuing groundbreaking science to discover and develop medicines for people with serious and life-threatening diseases. Our transformational discoveries include the first targeted antibody for cancer and the first medicine for primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

We know that deeply rooted inequities, structural racism, and other forms of systemic injustice affect our ability to push the boundaries of science and improve outcomes for all patients. That’s why we invest our philanthropic resources and employee time and talent to foster innovation and advance sustainable solutions to inequities in health care and education. Our giving initiatives, like the Health Equity and Diversity in STEM Innovation Fund, aim to diversify the scientific and medical workforce, advance a more just healthcare system and build local partnerships to ensure our communities thrive.

OSP: Please tell us a bit about the Genentech Foundation, and feel free to share some of the social/charitable initiatives the company has contributed to (both with the foundation, and any activity outside the foundation).

RD: Giving back has been embedded in Genentech’s culture since our founding more than 45 years ago, and we’re proud to be consistently recognized as one of the top corporate philanthropists in the Bay Area. We believe giving is a powerful tool to drive change, both in our local communities and in society at large.

Our giving aims to improve the health and wellbeing of patients and create a future of science that is more diverse, inclusive, and equitable – but deeply rooted inequities, structural racism, and other forms of systemic injustice hinder progress toward these goals. Through our corporate charitable giving, signature philanthropic programs like Futurelab and The Resilience Effect, employee volunteerism, and the work of the Genentech Foundation, we aim to address the root causes of these issues and advance health equity, diversity in STEM, and the health of our local communities. 

In 2021, Genentech and the Genentech Foundation together invested more than $32m in patient support, STEM education, and health equity programs. The majority of those charitable giving funds (more than $20m, or 65%), directly support historically underserved communities and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the scientific and medical workforce. This includes nearly $11m to organizations that are developing and implementing groundbreaking solutions to address health care inequities for historically underserved communities, with a focus on addressing the role of systemic racism in health care.

Genentech and the Genentech Foundation have also invested $32.5m and 65,000+ volunteer hours in science education in the South San Francisco Unified School District since 2015. These programs support ~9,000 students and their teachers across the K-12 continuum. Additionally, this year, Genentech and the Genentech Foundation pledged another $10m to expand access to science education in California.

The Genentech Foundation is specifically focused on investing across the postsecondary education ecosystem to ensure more students from historically excluded and underrepresented communities are ready for graduate education or career opportunities in the life sciences. Since 2019, the Foundation has committed more than $30m to new, multi-year partnerships to challenge and dismantle systemic barriers to careers in science and medicine through grants in postsecondary education.

For instance, in 2019 the Foundation provided a historic $10.5m grant over five years to San Francisco State University – among the largest ever received by the University – to support 100 underrepresented and low-income undergraduate and Master's students per year in their transition into Masters and/or PhD programs. In 2021, the Foundation provided $6.8m in funding to 30 partners, continuing efforts to challenge and dismantle barriers to careers in science and health. This year, the Foundation will dedicate $4m to organizations that support community college students transitioning to four-year institutions and support policy/advocacy efforts to aid this transition.

OSP: How did the 2022 Health Equity and Diversity in STEM Innovation Fund come about?

Rajni Dronamraju, senior director of charitable giving, Genentech

RD: We created the Health Equity and Diversity in STEM Innovation Fund in 2019 because we recognized that if we want our medicines to do the most good for the most people, we have to address the root causes, focusing on dismantling the effects of systemic racism in health care and education. With the Innovation Fund, we aim to get at the root of these problems by supporting organizations that are:  

  • Pioneering new approaches to remove barriers to high-quality care and inclusive research for patients of color across the health care continuum
  • Breaking down barriers to STEM education and career pathways to build a more diverse scientific and medical workforce.

The Innovation Fund is one mechanism for advancing Genentech’s ambitious Diversity & Inclusion goals and its commitment to transforming society by addressing the critical challenges that impact the biotech industry’s ability to innovate on behalf of patients.

OSP: Could you please share some details about how grantees are found/attracted, and then selected?

RD: Since 2019, the Innovation Fund has received 443 applicants and awarded 61 grants. The 2022 Fund announcement has been promoted broadly through our networks, partnerships, and social media, and we look forward to reviewing all of the proposals received.

The Innovation Fund is an extension of our equity-centric approach to giving; we are being intentional not only about what we fund but also how and who we fund. Specifically, the Innovation Fund is designed to support initiatives led by communities of color, and in 2020, 70% of program teams were led by a person of color. These initiatives represent the communities most impacted by health and education inequities, and engage those communities in the design and decision-making in their work.

To help select grantees, a group of advisors reviews and provides input on high-potential proposals, which must align with one of the following aims:

  • Health Equity: Increasing representation of communities of color in clinical research and eliminating inequities in care delivery.
  • Workforce Diversity: Dismantling barriers to a diverse, inclusive, and antiracist scientific and medical workforce.

As we evaluate applications, we are looking for strong proposals that align with the following high-level outcomes:

Advancing Health Equity

Applications should be focused on pioneering new approaches to engaging patients of color across the research to care continuum. We are seeking proposals that elevate patient and community voice, power, and engagement in clinical research; build and strengthen accountability mechanisms to eliminate unequal treatment and inequities in care; and expand the reach of health care through community-clinic partnerships.

Examples of strong health equity-focused proposals we have funded in the past include:

  • TOUCH, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance, which set out to evaluate the barriers to Black women’s clinical trial participation through the #BlackDataMatters study and launched the When We Tri(al) movement to engage more Black women in clinical research so they can access the groundbreaking treatment they deserve.
  • The Participatory Action for Access to Clinical Trials (PAACT) program, which is also working to make sure cancer clinical trial participants reflect the patient population – including Black Detroiters.
  • The Combatting Unequal Treatment in Health Care Through Virtual Awareness and Training in Empathy (CULTIVATE) project, which uses VR to build empathy among health care providers by allowing them to experience care from the perspective of a person of color.
  • A project from the University of California, Merced that deploys promotoras, or lay health workers, and undergraduate and medical students in the San Joaquin Valley to serve as cultural and linguistic brokers to deliver asthma-management education to their communities.
Promoting Diversity in STEM

Proposals from prospective partners will be concerned with building a more diverse and inclusive future of health care and science. We are seeking proposals that address structural and systemic inequity from kindergarten to careers, and partner with organizations that support the training, recruitment, retainment, and advancement of students and researchers from communities of color.

An example of a strong diversity in STEM proposal we funded in the past is an initiative through partners at the University of Michigan that provides funding and mentorship to Black principal investigators previously denied federal funding for their work, allowing them to pursue critical cutting edge biomedical research.

Promoting Diversity in Undergraduate STEM Pathways (Genentech Foundation)

This aim is focused on enhancing diversity in the national pool of qualified undergraduate students pursuing careers in scientific research and medicine. Strong proposals may focus on developing and testing novel approaches for supporting community college matriculation to four-year institutions or creating replicable models that drive student success and that center on diversity, inclusion, and antiracism.

Examples of past grantees include the American Indian College Fund (“COVID-19 Transformative Responses to Support Student Admission and Persistence”); Morehouse School of Medicine, The Undergraduate Health Sciences Academy (“Educating the Diverse Learners and Leaders of our Health Care Workforce”); and the UC Berkeley Biology Scholars Programs (“Virtually Supporting the Success of our BIPOC Pre-Health Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”)

OSP: Does Genentech have any plans for future initiatives (either tied to DE&I or any other area) that you could share with us?

(Serhii Brovko/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

RD: We recently published our 2021 Diversity & Inclusion Report, which details the progress we’ve achieved across each of our three D&I commitment areas since announcing our 2025 D&I Commitments last year. The commitment areas are related to goals such as changing how we study and develop medicines from early research through late-stage clinical studies and looking inward to make deep systemic improvements to our people, processes, and practices that will help us continue to create lasting change. In the Report, we found that we have made measurable progress across the three commitments:

  • Advancing Inclusive Research & Health Equity: We designed, launched, and fully enrolled inclusive clinical trials across the drug development lifecycle focused specifically on recruiting, retaining, and providing access to medical innovation for historically underrepresented and excluded communities.
  • Fostering Belonging: We increased the representation of Asian, Black, and Hispanic/Latinx employees across all levels of our workforce, along with notable increases of women in leadership roles. We also successfully maintained pay parity across Genentech, with no effective pay differences between women and men, or between POC and white employees.
  • Transforming Society: We are continuing our efforts to dismantle systemic racism and other barriers to economic opportunity, education, and careers in health care and STEM. We hit $879m of our $1b goal on our external spend to diverse-owned suppliers – a nearly 20% increase in diverse supplier spend since 2020.

Finally, in support of our company-wide commitment to fostering diverse future talent in science and medicine, this summer we are introducing Futurelab+, an ambitious, partner-driven initiative supported by Genentech to get kids excited about science and help build a more diverse and inclusive future biotech workforce.

Futurelab+ is a significant expansion of our already successful Futurelab science education program. Genentech has already invested more than $32m in Futurelab since 2015, and Futurelab+ represents an additional $10m investment to scale the program to reach high school students across the Bay Area and throughout California, with the goal of reaching an additional 2m students – many from historically underrepresented communities – by 2026.

Futurelab+ offers students and teachers a brand new, industry-aligned, open-source high school biotech curriculum; a teacher incubator that provides professional development, resources, and support for educators; and industry engagement experiences that facilitate meaningful connections between biotech professionals, educators, and students. The program is also designed to equip educators with strategies to engage students from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural groups in ways that validate and affirm student identity.

The curriculum itself also includes groundbreaking content addressing health equity and the importance of advancing inclusivity and representation in clinical research, both key focus areas for Genetech and critical issues to introduce young people contemplating careers in science and medicine.

Futurelab – and now Futurelab+ – are part of Genentech’s enterprise-wide Kindergarten to Careers initiative, which provides support for individuals, particularly people of color, at all stages of the STEM education continuum with the goal of building a more representative health and medical workforce that reflects the diversity of the people it serves. 

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