Juneteenth and our path forward: Letter from BioCentury’s Co-Founders

In a Commentary, BioCentury’s chairman, CEO provide a starter list of actions to address racial disparities in healthcare

Editor’s Note: BioCentury’s co-founders, Chairman Karen Bernstein, Ph.D., and President & CEO David Flores, have written to the company’s employees about BioCentury’s response to racism and racial inequities in healthcare. It is published in its entirety below. Simone Fishburn, Ph.D., referenced in the letter, is Vice President and Editor in Chief of BioCentury.

TO THE STAFF AT BIOCENTURY:

Today is Juneteenth, which commemorates the final emancipation of slaves in the U.S. in 1865. It’s a good day for us to share how we want BioCentury to respond to racism and racial disparities in healthcare.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, biotech and pharma companies have sounded notes of compassion about victims of racism. There have been pledges of solidarity with the black community, donations to non-profits dedicated to ending racism, and promises to improve recruitment and career development of black and African American employees in the biopharma industry. Many of industry’s leaders have said race-based disparities in healthcare are on their minds.

It’s time these disparities become front of mind. Expressions of solidarity alone will not eliminate racial differences in health outcomes that the industry can address, and should address.

In the coming days, BioCentury will use its voice to lay out an agenda where the biopharma community can make a real difference. Simone has helped us identify an initial slate of overarching areas where our industry, in collaboration with regulators and other stakeholders, can take meaningful action. These include:

1. Increasing investments to understand the epidemiology of diseases with high prevalence, morbidity and mortality in African American and other underserved racial groups. For example, we do not know how genetics and socioeconomic status interact to create worse COVID-19 outcomes among African Americans. There could be a biological basis, and/or it may be that socioeconomic disparities weigh heavily on outcomes. Either way, the urgency to solve COVID-19 should extend to addressing this question.

2. Increasing access to healthcare in African American and other underserved populations, including access to diagnostics in expanded community-based systems and the use of telehealth to reach further still into at-risk populations.

3. Elevating the priority of drug discovery and development for these racial populations. Their needs should stand alongside, not behind, the needs of orphan disease patients. It is not in biopharma’s best interests to be seen only exploiting orphan regulatory incentives while major population health needs go wanting.

4. Going the extra mile to diversify clinical trials. While sponsors now may meet pro forma regulatory standards, COVID-19 shows that clinical designs should consistently generate sufficient data in African American and other racial groups to identify when genetics makes a difference in patient outcomes.

Simone will use these and other ideas as the underpinnings for a continuing series of reports to keep all this at front of mind for industry’s leaders.

On its own account, BioCentury also will:

1. Help industry to identify disease priorities among the African-American community. This is similar to FDA’s Patient-Focused Drug Development initiative, which helps the agency set priorities based on needs expressed by the actual patient community.

2. Expand the diversity of voices representing innovation and excellence in our reporting and analysis, providing visibility for African Americans, women and other under-represented talents who will make a difference.

3. Focus more than ever on fact-based research and reporting to cover the politics of healthcare. This is the bedrock of the trust we have earned in our industry. We will avoid politicizing our own voice in the discussion of racism and other social issues in our reporting and analysis, because, at the end of the day, we all must use non-partisan collaboration to agree on solutions and turn them into reality.

4. Champion civility, diversity of thought and freedom of speech, in our industry, workplace and communities in the belief that this ultimately is necessary to removing racism in all walks of life.

5. And inside of our company, we will commit ourselves to non-confrontational sharing of experiences and points of view.

There are a lot of ideas embedded in these actions. We have to break them down into pieces we can tackle successfully. The key is to focus on using BioCentury’s voice to create actual progress in the places where we have expertise and credibility.

Thanks to you all,

Karen and Dave

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