Giovanni Caforio, Bristol Myers Squibb CEO (Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bris­tol My­ers Squibb com­mits $300 mil­lion to com­bat racial dis­par­i­ties, but de­clines to re­lease own de­mo­graph­ic da­ta

Af­ter the po­lice killing of George Floyd, a flur­ry of phar­ma and biotech com­pa­nies, ex­ec­u­tives and in­vestors jumped out to make state­ments, ei­ther ex­press­ing sup­port for Black Lives Mat­ter and the protests or con­demn­ing sys­temic racism.

Now, a Big Phar­ma com­pa­ny is pub­licly putting some teeth be­hind those state­ments. This morn­ing, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb an­nounced they would spend $300 mil­lion on a broad ef­fort to re­duce racial health dis­par­i­ties, and di­ver­si­fy both their clin­i­cal tri­als and their own ex­ec­u­tive team and work­force.

Win­selow Tuck­er

“What I’m re­al­ly ex­cit­ed about is that this is a tan­gi­ble view,” Win­selow Tuck­er, Bris­tol My­ers’ US com­mer­cial hema­tol­ogy lead told End­points News, “that we’re not just look­ing ex­ter­nal­ly, we’re al­so look­ing in­ter­nal­ly as well to fig­ure out how can we sup­port the right eq­ui­ty across both our in­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions and in the com­mu­ni­ties of pa­tients that we serve.”

At $60 mil­lion, when cal­cu­lat­ed on an an­nu­al ba­sis, the ini­tia­tive will be small in com­par­i­son to some of Bris­tol My­ers Squibb’s oth­er ex­pen­di­tures; it rep­re­sents just 1.7% of its 2019 prof­its and .2% of its 2019 rev­enue. Still, it rep­re­sents the largest fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment any ma­jor drug­mak­er has made to com­bat racial in­equal­i­ty or change their in­ter­nal struc­ture, and one of the first times a com­pa­ny in the in­dus­try has specif­i­cal­ly set goals for chang­ing their ex­ec­u­tive struc­ture.

In­ter­nal­ly, by 2022 the phar­ma gi­ant has com­mit­ted to achiev­ing glob­al gen­der par­i­ty at the ex­ec­u­tive lev­el — they’re now at 53% women for to­tal em­ploy­ees — and dou­bling the num­ber of Black and Lati­no/His­pan­ic ex­ec­u­tives by 2022. They al­so com­mit­ted to new ef­forts to open clin­i­cal tri­al sites in un­der­served ar­eas.

Bris­tol My­ers de­clined, how­ev­er, to share a racial break­down for their cur­rent work­force or for the pa­tients en­rolled in their clin­i­cal tri­als.

Michelle Mc­Mur­ry-Heath

New BIO CEO Michelle Mc­Mur­ry-Heath, who has been out­spo­ken on rep­re­sen­ta­tion with­in the in­dus­try and clin­i­cal tri­als, praised the com­pa­ny’s ef­forts.

”It’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant our com­pa­nies are com­ing out and show­ing lead­er­ship on this; it’s ex­act­ly what they should be do­ing,” Mc­Mur­ry-Heath told End­points. “And you’ll prob­a­bly see more.  I know many are try­ing not to be glib in this. They’re re­al­ly tak­ing some time to fo­cus in­ter­nal­ly and fig­ure out what the best ap­proach is go­ing for­ward.”

Tuck­er and fel­low US com­mer­cial lead Adam Lenkowsky said the com­pa­ny had been dis­cussing such ini­tia­tives over the last few years, but they came to a head in the spring, amid the protests over the po­lice killing of Floyd and Bre­on­na Tay­lor and as da­ta emerged on the dis­pro­por­tion­ate toll Covid-19 was tak­ing on Black and Lati­no com­mu­ni­ties.

Adam Lenkowsky

“Be­cause of what we’ve seen with the death of George Floyd and the death of Bre­on­na Tay­lor, this has be­come a burn­ing plat­form in the US,” Lenkowsky told End­points.

Over the last few months, they said, Bris­tol My­ers had been meet­ing with physi­cians and var­i­ous ad­vo­ca­cy and pa­tient groups, in­clud­ing Stand Up to Can­cer, the Na­tion­al MS So­ci­ety, and the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Car­di­ol­o­gy. Asked if the com­pa­ny had con­sult­ed with any racial jus­tice groups, they point­ed to talks with the Con­gres­sion­al Black Cau­cus and the NAACP and dis­cus­sions with em­ploy­ees in­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Our di­verse em­ploy­ees — they are liv­ing very day-to-day, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in the US, with racial jus­tice con­ver­sa­tions, and we have had very can­did con­ver­sa­tions with them to un­der­stand how they’re feel­ing and where they be­lieve as well we can have an im­pact,” Tuck­er said.

Much of the new ini­tia­tive will fo­cus on clin­i­cal tri­als. Racial mi­nori­ties have long been left out of clin­i­cal tri­al re­search, with Black peo­ple mak­ing up just 5% of cur­rent tri­al par­tic­i­pants de­spite rep­re­sent­ing 14% of the pop­u­la­tion and peo­ple of His­pan­ic ori­gin mak­ing up just 1% of clin­i­cal tri­al par­tic­i­pants de­spite rep­re­sent­ing 18% of the pop­u­la­tion. It’s an in­equity that leads to what re­searchers have called a “one-size-fits-all” ap­proach to med­i­cine that both leaves some des­per­ate­ly ill pa­tients with­out ac­cess to ex­per­i­men­tal drugs and can leave re­searchers un­aware of how new med­i­cines af­fect dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions.

Bris­tol My­ers didn’t set a goal for rep­re­sen­ta­tion in their tri­als, but the com­pa­ny said they would set up new in­fra­struc­ture in un­der-served rur­al and ur­ban ar­eas. Lenkowsky said that would in­clude in-roads in places such as Hous­ton, Mi­a­mi, Los An­ge­les, and Chica­go. They al­so com­mit­ted to train­ing and de­vel­op­ing 250 new “racial­ly and eth­ni­cal­ly di­verse” clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Phar­ma broad­ly has long been crit­i­cized for high prices that re­duce ac­cess to life-sav­ing med­i­cines, par­tic­u­lar­ly those from mar­gin­al­ized groups. Bris­tol My­ers said they would “ac­cel­er­ate” ef­forts to ed­u­cate on dis­ease aware­ness and their pa­tient sup­port pro­grams to help pa­tients who can’t af­ford the med­i­cines. They al­so point­ed to com­mit­ments they made ear­li­er the year to cov­er med­i­cines for any­one who has lost health in­sur­ance as a re­sult of the Covid-19.

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, the drug­mak­er said it would spend $1 bil­lion on Black and “oth­er di­verse-owned busi­ness­es” by 2025, to help cre­ate jobs and spur eco­nom­ic ac­tiv­i­ty. They’ve al­so agreed to match 2-1 em­ploy­ee do­na­tions to or­ga­ni­za­tions fight­ing health dis­par­i­ties.

Tuck­er said he would like to see oth­er com­pa­nies in the in­dus­try take sim­i­lar steps.

“If you look at where we fo­cus — whether it’s clin­i­cal tri­als, whether it’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion with­in our em­ploy­ees, whether it’s the sup­plies — these are not sit­u­a­tions that are unique to Bris­tol My­ers Squibb,” he said.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

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Samit Hirawat (Bristol Myers Squibb)

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