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Harnessing the Power of Communities to Combat Healthcare Inequities

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive: August 2023
Volume 44
Issue 8

Biopharma has a responsibility to meet patients where they are.

Veronica Sandoval

Veronica Sandoval, PhD
Principal, Patient Inclusion
and Health Equity
Chief Diversity Office

Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in healthcare drives innovation, improves scientific and clinical outcomes, and contributes to equitable access for all. Despite this fact, there is still more to be done across our industry to advance health equity. To truly close disparity gaps in healthcare, we must engage directly with the communities we serve through intentional partnerships and programs that seek to build trust and remove barriers. This trust-building is an essential first step to co-creating viable and sustainable solutions to complex inequities that have been built and reinforced over centuries.

This is not a simple task with a simple blueprint. As a first-generation Mexican American and the daughter of immigrant farmworkers, I have seen first-hand the generational impacts of inequitable access to quality healthcare and scientific innovations. It is critical to recognize that one size does not fit all, and each community has unique priorities and needs. As leaders in the biopharma industry, we have a responsibility to do everything possible to center and elevate the voices of those who have far too often been silenced.

One of the many ways we are doing this at Genentech is by bringing community stakeholders together at a local level to engage in solution-oriented discussions about closing health inequity gaps. Last year, we launched a regional health equity symposia initiative, which has reached more than 4,000 people through 27 events across 16 US cities on a range of topics from mental health in the LGBTQ+ community to the economic impacts of access to clinical research. We understand that these inequities are complex and deep-rooted in nature and that one symposium is not going to find magic solutions. With that said, the goal is momentum and coalition-building—bringing key stakeholders together to make collective commitments that will have positive and long-term impacts.

I have seen this in action at many symposia, including one convened by a Sacramento-based medical center that brought local politicians, advocacy organizations, physicians, and community members together to listen, discuss, and engage around the topic of maternal health disparities. Patients inspired attendees to action by sharing their first-hand experiences, leading to insights and informed recommendations that will be developed into standards for more effective bias mitigation strategies that can be implemented across the state of California. Events like these give me hope that our industry can co-create systemic solutions with those who are most impacted by inequities.

One key to improving health outcomes is gathering clinical data that represents all populations. Historically, less than 10% of patients in the US participate in clinical trials; and, of those, only 5% identify as Black/African American and 1% identify as Hispanic/Latino, despite representing more than 13% and 18% of the US population, respectively, according to a Clinical Research Pathways article.1 As a result, clinical study data often do not reflect the diversity of our global population.

I’m proud that at Genentech, reducing disparities in clinical research participation has been a long-standing priority. Last year, we nearly doubled the size of our Advancing Inclusive Research® Site Alliance, which brings together leaders and institutions with a proven track record of successfully engaging with communities that have been historically underrepresented in research to establish best practices that can be leveraged across the industry to dismantle barriers to clinical research participation.

For too long, underserved communities have not had a seat at the table for important conversations that impact their health and their futures. We have the ability and responsibility to work to identify and advocate for solutions that make healthcare more accessible to all patients, especially those historically left behind in these endeavors. The bottom line, we must take a holistic approach to invest in and engage directly with diverse communities if we want to build trust and ensure better and more equitable patient outcomes for all.


  1. Diversity in Clinical Trials. Clinical Research Pathways. July 2023, https://clinicalresearchpathways.org/diversity/
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