Broad Institute hires René Salazar to tackle biomedical research's diversity problem
Amid urgent calls to diversify the biotech industry, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard is bringing on a new chief equity officer who promises to start from the “top-down and ground-up.”
René Salazar, former assistant dean for diversity and professor of medicine at the University of Texas in Austin’s Dell Medical School, is now leading diversity and inclusion efforts at the Broad, the institute announced on Wednesday. And he’s not wasting any time — the new hire is helping organize a daylong virtual symposium called Belonging@Broad being held on Monday.
“I look forward to bringing together everyone who is working to build an inclusive community at Broad,” he said in a statement, “In particular, I look forward to having open conversations about how racism and other forms of oppression impair science and, most importantly, how to help find solutions.”
The Texas native earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Health San Antonio in 1999, then completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He followed that up with a one-year Latino health disparities research fellowship, which led into a 12-year teaching career at UCSF. Starting in 2007, he became the director of diversity for the Office of Graduate Medical Education.
In 2016, the professor left UCSF and flew back to his home state for a position at the Dell Medical School. And the rest is history.
At the Broad, Salazar will lead the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA) Office. His hiring comes as the pandemic casts a harsh spotlight on the biopharma industry’s lack of diversity. Of the 53 drugs approved in 2020, Black patients represented only about 8% of participants in the trials regulators based their decisions on (and for which data on race were collected). To put that in perspective, Black Americans represent about 13% of the US population.
Latinx/Hispanic participants made up just under 13% of clinical trials for approved drugs last year, and Asian participants just over 6%.
Some say solving biopharma’s diversity problem begins with diversifying the companies themselves. But while most drugmakers list diversity and inclusion as one of their key values, 67% of them saw little or no change in representation by race or ethnicity at the executive level last year, according to a BIO survey.
“This work has to be top-down and ground-up, and I’ll work with leadership to build the skills to meaningfully move this work forward,” Salazar said. “At the same time, we need to continue to break down barriers and promote a sense of belonging for scientists and staff of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ individuals, in addition to those from other groups that have historically been underrepresented in the biomedical sciences.”