Bristol Myers Squibb doles out $8M in new grants to improve health equity with cardiovascular, oncology focus

Bristol Myers Squibb is earmarking nearly $8 million in new grants to two dozen nonprofits focused on improving access to healthcare in underserved communities.

The latest round of grants is part of the company’s 2020 pledge to donate $150 million over the next five years to organizations focused on reducing health disparities. So far, the company has donated more than $39 million, including the funds announced Tuesday. The grants, which tend to range from one to three years, are aimed at supporting four therapeutic areas: cardiovascular disease, hematology, immunology and oncology.

The Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation has committed an additional $150 million to similar causes, including partnering with National Medical Fellowships to help train 250 new clinical trial investigators, specifically those of color. 

In an interview with Fierce Biotech, Adam Lenkowsky, Bristol Myers Squibb senior vice president and general manager of U.S. cardiovascular, immunology and oncology, said this round of grants was aimed at organizations composed of patient navigators and community healthcare workers that are trusted by communities that experience barriers to adequate healthcare and have proven to help. 

“We know that being able to harness the power of trusted community members and experts in healthcare navigation, we’ll be able to really move the needle on ensuring equitable access to quality care,” he said. 

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Lenkowsky, who’s also the executive sponsor of BMS’ Health Equity Initiative, said ultimately the main goal of these efforts is to build trust. 

This round of grants includes one to the Association of Black Cardiologists to expand the Community Health Advocate Training program in six states. Another, given to the Breathing Room Foundation in Pennsylvania, will help fund transportation to medical services. Larger organizations including the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society are also recipients. 

But Lenkowsky says more should be done, and the larger scientific communities, both public and private, should rally around bolstering health equity. 

“I think everyone understands the importance of diversity and inclusion and health disparities but I don’t think that we’ve come together in the best way possible at this point,” he said, adding that he invites other stakeholders to “sit down at the table” to discuss actions that will improve disparities. 

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As for this program, grant recipients update the company every six months, and BMS will report on the cumulative outcomes of the grant projects. 

Many Big Pharmas have been putting up cash and forming new programs to address health inequities and diversity in clinical trials. In July, Novartis launched an ambitious diversity and inclusion program that provided funding for historically Black colleges and universities.