Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation unites with Gilead to boost diversity among clinical trial investigators

Less than 18 months after unveiling its clinical trial investigator training program, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation has linked up with an unlikely ally to expand enrollment, the first in a newfound effort to publicly rally more financial support. 

Gilead will contribute $14 million over four years after deciding that the foundation’s career development program, which centers on elevating physicians of color, was better than what they were concocting internally, according to Catharine Grimes, senior director at the BMS Foundation. The foundation announced the funding commitment Monday.

“Once they learned of our openness to have other funders, partners, companies, etc. join us, they were thrilled,” she said. “It was just a very synergistic relationship and it’s been just a wonderful collaboration.” 

The foundation has not been publicly soliciting other partners, but other companies have come flocking to them to get onboard. Grimes said discussions with other companies have often begun with them seeking advice for launching similar work but evolved to consider simply partnering up. Now, the foundation is openly looking for additional partners as a way to grow the program.

Gilead is sponsoring the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program, which was first announced at the tail end of 2020 and selected the first cohort in October 2021. The $100 million program originally was slated to train 250 early career physicians over five years through 2027 but Gilead is now sponsoring 10 additional members each year over four years, beginning in 2023. The scholars will be trained in conducting both industry-sponsored and investigator-initiated trials.

Among the first 52 physicians in the first cohort, 73% are either Black or Hispanic/Latino and 65% are women. Two-thirds have a specialty in cancer oncology with the remaining covering cancer hematology, immunologic disorders and cardiovascular disease. 

The second arm of the program centers around mentorship, with a primary focus on recruiting students of color. The program is also open to 290 participants, with Gilead sponsoring 40. Those students will be mentored by the physicians in the career development program with the goal of bolstering their network of working doctors and inspiring a new wave of diverse investigators. Grimes said the hope is that when they enter the workforce, they’ll be able to hit the ground running. 

“They’ll start to begin that network that we realized was one of the deficits that they didn’t have going forward,” said Grimes.

The overarching goal of both arms of the program is to bolster investigator diversity and in turn, trail participant diversity. The latest data from the FDA found that from 2015 to 2019, 76% of clinical trial participants were white.