Novartis offers $17.7m support in the fight for health equity

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(Stígur Már Karlsson /Heimsmyndir/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags Novartis diversity equity Patient centricity Clinical trials Research Merck Sanofi

The pharmaceutical company is expanding its alliance with historically Black medical schools to bolster the battle against systemic health disparities.

Novartis and the Novartis US Foundation have announced an expansion of its Beacon of Hope program, a 10-year collaboration with 26 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), medical schools, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), and the National Medical Association. The collaborative effort is set on creating programs that address the root causes of disparities in health and education, and improving diversity, equity, inclusion, and trust along the research and development pipeline.

"Within one year of launching this unique collaboration, we have made tangible progress in tackling social determinants of health like education and discrimination, and creating enduring solutions for increasing diversity and inclusion in clinical trials​," said Patrice Matchaba, head of US corporate responsibility with Novartis and president of the Novartis US Foundation. "Last year we issued a call to action to other like-minded companies and organizations to join us in creating this paradigm shift in health equity, and we are honored and humbled that Merck and Sanofi have answered the call​."

The company and foundation are working with Howard University College of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science to establish Clinical Trial Centers of Excellence at each school, in order to run trials by investigators and trial managers of color among participants from underrepresented communities. These centers reportedly will be established with grants totaling $17.7m over 10 years from the Novartis US Foundation, bringing the company’s financial commitment to the Beacon of Hope initiatives to more than $50m over 10 years.

The three universities will collaborate with the Clinical Trial Center of Excellence that has already been established at Morehouse School of Medicine to form a consortium under the Beacon of Hope. Together, the institutions will work to strengthen clinical trial capabilities and improve the quality and inclusivity of studies to help both improve health outcomes for communities of color and restore trust in the healthcare system.

"Howard University College of Medicine plays a critical role in the pursuit of groundbreaking research that significantly impacts health outcomes for the African American community who have historically been overlooked for practices like clinical trials that are integral to medical research​," said Howard University president Wayne Frederick. "By making it our mission to encourage research that has a particular impact on African Americans, and especially that which impacts overall public health, Howard University College of Medicine continues to serve as a leader and innovator in our community.

This contribution to the creation of a Clinical Trial Center of Excellence will inform the work of Howard's National Research Center on Health Disparities allowing us to create robust collaborations with pharmaceutical and biomedical companies that lead to better-informed solutions to some of the world's most challenging public health issues​,” Frederick added.

"The Novartis team has truly risen to the occasion to accelerate diversity in clinical trials and the research and development ecosystem across our nation," added James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. "We are grateful for the many critical next steps this initiative will take, which include fostering new groundwork for discovery through new clinical trial Centers of Excellence and increased access to resources to train the next generation of Black health care leaders at the four HBCU medical schools."

"Health equity isn't just a goal, it's a right​," declared David Carlisle, president and CEO of Drew in South Los Angeles. "But like so many rights we now enjoy, shepherding it from idea to movement to reality takes a concerted effort, unyielding will, and strong partnerships. That's why we value our relationship with Novartis, the Novartis US Foundation, and all other Beacon of Hope participants as we work together towards a healthier tomorrow for everyone​."

In addition to Novartis, Merck and Sanofi have signed on to the Beacon of Hope to run trials through the four Clinical Trial Centers of Excellence.

"We as an industry have an obligation to address health disparities through our research and development. To make sure all patients can benefit from our medicines, we must understand how these medicines work in diverse populations, especially in groups that have been historically underrepresented in clinical trials​," said Dietmar Berger, chief medical officer and global head of development with Sanofi.

"Merck is proud to participate in a collaboration focused on improving enrollment of underrepresented people into clinical trials with the common goal of ensuring these trials appropriately reflect the diversity of the patients we serve worldwide​," added Andy Lee, Merck's head of global clinical trial operations.

Morehouse School of Medicine's Clinical Trial Center of Excellence is now operational and is poised to start its first study with Novartis on a clinical trial evaluating a cholesterol management pathway in patients on maximally tolerated statin therapy who have also experienced a recent acute coronary syndrome event. The Center of Excellence is evaluating additional Novartis clinical trials including cardiovascular, breast cancer, and prostate cancer trials, and soon will begin to evaluate Merck and Sanofi clinical trials as well.

Launched in July 2021 as a $33.7m commitment from Novartis and the Novartis US Foundation, Beacon of Hope began as a 10-year collaboration with HBCUs and other organizations to increase diversity among clinical trial participants and investigators; improve access to high-quality education and promising jobs; address inherent bias in the data standards used to diagnose and treat disease, and find actionable solutions to environmental and climate issues that disproportionately affect health among communities of color.

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