Biomedical Donor Diversity Push Gains New Momentum | business news

By SONO MOTOYAMA of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Chronicle of Philanthropy

$1.5 billion is a huge mea culpa, but that’s what one philanthropic organization is putting on the table to address what it admits is a long-standing problem: the failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion ( DEI) in health research.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the nation’s wealthiest philanthropies, announced in May a $1.5 billion initiative designed to help scientists of color advance their careers. This is one of several DEI programs being conducted by some of the nation’s largest health donors and charities. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, for example, is working with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to award $1.15 million to biomedical researchers who have a history of promoting DEI.

Other donors are working to change their practices to ensure scholars of color are more likely to gain philanthropic and government support to advance their work. However, many donors and health charities say their own progress has lagged and they are joining forces to do more.

Ten years ago, a National Institutes of Health funding survey found that black applicants were 10% less likely to receive grants than their white counterparts, all other things being equal. Today, health donors, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement following the death of George Floyd, have begun to take action.

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Leslie Vosshall, vice president and chief scientific officer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said her organization deplored the research funding gap for black biomedical scientists, as well as the underrepresentation of scientists of color at universities and research institutions.

“It’s been a century-long breakthrough in the biomedical sciences,” he said. “Good science is done by a diverse cohort of scientists. If we don’t let everyone come to the table, we’re leaving behind an enormous amount of talent. Diversity breeds better science.”

Ivory Dean, science program manager for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, agreed. “Representative science is better science. To cure, prevent, or control all disease, science must be more inclusive of people of color, as a lack of genetic diversity in studies and research has introduced significant bias in disease treatments and outcomes,” he said. in an email.

The focus on who is studied in medical research is a big part of several new efforts. For example, the American Heart Association, with support from Pfizer Ventures and Gates Ventures, announced a $20 million research project to study barriers to diverse people’s participation in clinical research trials.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropic health organization, opened a call for proposals in April, awarding a total of $1.3 million for research benefiting people affected by structural racism and discrimination, noting that people who are supposed to benefit from the research should have a leading role in the study.

These DEI programs mirror similar efforts by the federal government, the biggest supporter of biomedical research. The National Institutes of Health initiated several NIH-funded programs to improve workforce diversity. The goal of the programs is to establish effective ways to train and mentor scientists from underrepresented groups, focusing on multiple levels: mentoring students, enhancing faculty development, and strengthening the institutions’ research training infrastructure.

The Health Research Alliance, a consortium of 107 nonprofit health grant givers, is also driving change. It recently published a report that analyzed 10 years of data submitted by its members.

Maryrose Franko, executive director of the alliance, noted that the data clearly showed that the percentage of female award winners at all stages of career had “leveled off” over the decade. The percentage of black recipients of group member-funded grants was 1.7% and of NIH-funded grants 2.6%, while census data puts the black population at about 13% during this period, according to the report.

“We need to pinpoint the problem,” Franko said. “We are drawing attention to our lack of success – yes, we have been working on this, but it is not good enough.”

To address these disparities, Howard Hughes’ new $1.5 billion effort will pay for up to 150 early-career biomedical researchers who are “strongly committed” to advancing IED in science. Thirty fellows, appointed for five-year terms, will receive up to $8.6 million over 10 years.

Vosshall notes that during the 10-year grant period, each researcher may have 50 to 100 students working in the lab, who will ideally be magnets to attract a diverse workforce. A key indicator of the program’s success will be whether, as expected, “we will have had thousands of students go through the labs that will diversify science.”

For its part, the Health Research Alliance, whose members include relatively small donors and large organizations, is taking a data-centric approach to addressing diversity. Kimberly Lezak, managing director of the Medical Foundation at alliance member Health Resources in Action, co-authored the group’s recent Nature Medicine commentary on their findings.

One problem with measuring the progress of diversity efforts, or even getting a clear picture of the current situation, Lezak said, is a lack of data. Most members do not have long-term demographic information. “There’s a greater recognition that you have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going,” she said.

To make some initial recommendations, the alliance surveyed its members on the methods they used in three areas: demographic data collection and use, increasing diversity in applicant and beneficiary pools, and reducing bias in selection committees. awards.

From its members, the group found that sometimes promoting inclusion is a relatively simple matter, such as changing the language in the call for grant applicants. Alliance member Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has been studying ways to increase equity in grantmaking for years.

To increase gender equity, in 2016 the foundation sought to downplay words traditionally associated with masculine traits. Instead of “leadership potential,” for example, he substituted “promise to make significant contributions.” Similarly, the portions of the application requesting qualifications from the applicant’s mentor and department head were modified to remove categories associated with gender.

The results were surprising. The proportion of female applicants increased from 43% to 53%, while the percentage of successful female applicants increased from 5% of all female applicants to 10%, equal to the percentage of successful male applicants.

“For Health Research Alliance members and other funders, the bottom line is that there are actions we can take to try to change who applies for our funds, who has access to apply for our funds, and who receives funds,” said Sindy Escobar Alvarez. , director of the Doris Duke medical research program.

The alliance seeks to bring together insights like Doris Duke’s to work with its members to create new assessment strategies and metrics.

“As a community, we can work together to make a much bigger impact together than on our own,” Franko said.

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Sono Motoyama is a senior writer at Chronicle. Email: AP and Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. AP and Chronicle are solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropic coverage, visit

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