Pharma Steps Up for Public Health Inequities

March 11, 2021
Lisa Henderson

Lisa Henderson is Editor-in-Chief of Applied Clinical Trials and Pharm Exec. She can be reached at lhenderson@mmhgroup.com.

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-03-01-2021, Volume 41, Issue 3

Industry makes large investments toward public health issues exposed by pandemic.

When COVID hit a year ago, pharma stepped up to support its local communities. Merck donated 500,000 personal protective masks to New York City Emergency Management; Horizon Therapeutics provided $500,000 each to the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund and the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization Institute’s COVID-19 Response Fund. Eli Lilly increased its COVID testing lab capability for Indiana’s nursing homes and emergency rooms.

As if the subsequent developments of pharma’s collaborative and innovative response to COVID-19 weren’t enough, the industry is making large investments toward public health issues that have been greatly exposed during the pandemic. These include health inequities for people of color, as well as scientific education. The following are examples, and not meant to be a comprehensive list.

Health Inequities

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic decline therein, has spotlighted healthcare inequities for people of color and other diverse populations, including LGBTQ, people with disabilities, rural communities, and more.

Late last month, Bristol Myers Squibb donated $11 million to 56 nonprofit organizations focused on advancing health equity in these populations in the US. The organizations’ initiatives range from improving access to high-quality care, increasing disease awareness and education programs, and improving diversity in clinical research. This initial donation is part of $150 million pledged by BMS in August 2020 to advance diversity, inclusion, and health equity. In addition, the company is committing $50 million more in grants by 2025, increasing awareness of its patient support and affordability program in communities of need, and spending $1 billion with diverse suppliers by 2025.

In December 2020, AbbVie announced it would be investing $50 million in a five-year program to support underserved Black communities in its own Chicago area, as well as other US cities. This includes $8 Million to University of Chicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative to advance health equity in Chicago’s South Side, made up of 77% Black residents, and $10 Million to Direct Relief to support the improvement of healthcare services at free and charitable clinics and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs).

J&J, in November 2020, announced $100 million in commitments and collaborations over the next five years to invest in and promote health equity solutions for communities of color in the US. It prioritizes Healthier Communities—programs that help provide equitable healthcare for underserved communities; Enduring Alliances—partnerships and alliances that combat racial and social health determinants; and a Diverse & Inclusive Corporate Culture. Some initiatives include providing technology and mobile health solutions also through community-based clinics and FQHCs.

Scientific education

Both J&J and BMS see scientific education for diverse populations as a way to move the healthcare inequity issue closer to where it lives through funding within their aforementioned investments. This includes J&J’s partnership with The Executive Leadership Council to provide college scholarships and other resources to Black students interested in STEM, business, or healthcare-related fields, as well as introducing new scholarships, mentoring, and non-financial support to improve representation of people of color in medical, scientific, and health professions.

The BMS Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, has committed to delivering a new clinical trial career development program for 250 new clinical investigators who are racially and ethnically diverse or who are committed to serving diverse and medically underserved communities, and to mentoring 250 racially and ethnically diverse medical school students to build a career pipeline with the goal of increasing diversity of participants in clinical research.

And AbbVie will expand its educational and mentorship opportunities for historically underserved youth, both in the local Chicago area, as well as nationally, though not specific to STEM or healthcare, to the tune of $8.5 million.

Pharma continues to invest its dollars, collaborative spirit, and scientific innovation to improve the overall quality of life for US citizens, another clear sign of the industry’s importance to the entire healthcare sector.

Lisa Henderson is Pharm Exec’s Editor-in-Chief. She can be reached at lhenderson@mjhlifesciences.com.

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