Bay State Banner: Biotech conference targets clinical trials diversity

Jul 26, 2023

By Avery Bleichfeld, Bay State Banner

The following are excerpts from an article in the Bay State Banner originally published in print on July 27, 2023:

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council delved into clinical trial diversity and other health equity issues at its annual diversity, equity and inclusion conference July 20.

Tom Browne, MassBio’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said he hopes the focus on health equity generally, rather than narrowing in on biotechnology, allowed member organizations to better understand broader ecosystem and equity impacts related to their work.

“It was really important … for all of us to kind of pull our thoughts, knowledge and experiences, to make sure that we’re designing solutions that are suitable for everyone,” Browne said.

The conference featured a panel discussion on clinical trial diversity, which explored the distrust that surrounds such trials and how to address those issues.

Sheila Phicil, director of innovation at Boston Medical Center’s Health Equity Accelerator, said during treatment for acne she had been prescribed an antibiotic that made it hard to breathe and caused her to break out in hives.

“It was only through my own research that I found case studies that this particular medication had these kinds of effects in people of African descent, but my doctor had prescribed this medication to me,” said Phicil, who is Haitian-American.  “I know what it’s like to be given a medication that was not designed for me in mind.”

The conference is tied into other broader goals addressing diversity and equity that MassBio is tackling. The conference, Browne said, is a springboard to greater collaboration with and action with the stakeholders who attended.

“The next 12 months really is going to be looking to translate some of those great discussions into actions, and it’s our role as MassBio to make sure that’s coordinated as best as possible,” Browne said.

That work includes Bioversity, a Dorchester-based nonprofit launching in January that will offer training for entry-level science and biotech jobs. It also includes the release of the organization’s diversity survey update, which offers a snapshot of diversity within their member companies and their commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Browne said he sees MassBio’s work in diversity important in addressing community health.

“Physical health is so closely tied to social health and social advancement,” Browne said. “Without supporting the wellness of those communities, much of what we’re trying to achieve more broadly, isn’t going to be possible.”

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