Novartis, foundation launch 10-year collaboration with minority organizations, HBCUs to focus on health disparities

Novartis and its Novartis US Foundation announced a planned 10-year collaboration to create programs addressing the root causes of systemic disparities in health outcomes, and to create greater diversity, equity and inclusion across the research & development ecosystem.

Novartis, which has its U.S. headquarters in East Hanover, is collaborating with Coursera, the National Medical Association, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Morehouse School of Medicine and 26 other Historically Black Colleges, Universities and Medical Schools.

Leaders from all of the organizations have signed a pledge to develop programs focused on building trust in the health care system with communities of color and making measurable progress toward health equity, according to a news release. Efforts will include improving access to high-quality education, improved health outcomes, increasing clinical trial diversity and more.

“At Novartis, we envision a world with equity in health for all,” CEO Dr. Vas Narasimhan said in a prepared statement. “Just as there are a multitude of factors and causes behind racial disparities in health and education, there is no single solution to this critical challenge. It will take the concerted, urgent action of diverse stakeholders across the public and private sectors.

“We are honored and humbled to work together with these organizations to build enduring solutions to some of the most pressing, deeply rooted and historic challenges in the United States, and we invite other like-minded companies and organizations to join us in creating this paradigm shift in health equity.”

Novartis said the four key areas of collaboration will:

  1. Enable the next generation of Black and African American leaders by creating equitable access to high-quality education and professional development for future leaders, in health science, technology and business-related fields;
  2. Support the establishment of digitally enabled clinical trial Centers of Excellence, managed and led by clinical researchers of color, to build trust, increase diversity and inclusivity in clinical trials, and contribute to improved health outcomes for people of color;
  3. Research and validate existing data standards that drive diagnosis, clinical trial endpoints and population health policy to identify areas for increased inclusivity and ensure accurate data collection and unbiased treatment decisions; and
  4. Establish digitally enabled research centers on the impact of the environment and climate change on health to identify solutions to environmental and climate issues that disproportionately affect communities of color.

The collaborative partners will spend the next six months co-creating appropriate programs with the communities, including establishing the first centers at Morehouse School of Medicine.

In addition, as an initial step, the Novartis US Foundation plans to invest $20 million in scholarships, mentorships and research grants over the next 10 years to help create equitable access for HBCU students in health-related fields. The program, administered by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, will train and prepare up to 1,200 students, including providing up to 360 three-year, $10,000-per-year scholarships; mentoring up to 1,200 students over three years; encouraging application to Novartis internship programs; and up to 10 grants of $25,000 annually for HBCU faculty.

“Black and African American people endured education and health disparities in the United States long before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Patrice Matchaba, president of the foundation, said in a statement. “Their exclusion from the research & development ecosystem has resulted in mistrust and a delayed uptake of lifesaving innovative medicines and effective care models, further exacerbating racial disparities in care and outcomes.

“We are proud to come together to take our direction from Black and African American community members and other minority groups on programs that will help achieve sustained change.”