With a renewed focus on health equity, July 20th saw MassBio host it’s 6th Annual DEI Conference, bringing together representatives from 150 different organizations to be informed on the challenges and opportunities in this work, inspired to make change in whatever sphere of influence they have, and connected with allies to collaborate with. Held in the MassBioHub, more than 100 attendees filled the room, not only from our member companies, but from healthcare institutions, community engagement partners, and training providers, with nearly as many joining virtually. Our photographer, John Wilcox, captured moments in time that visually depict the conversations and connections that made for a truly successful convening of community members who share a passion for and commitment to DEI.
The day began with MassBio CEO and President, Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, laying the foundations for the day’s presentations, reiterating why DEI and health equity are so important to MassBio and sharing the actions we are proactively taking to move the needle. This included the open invitation to the groundbreaking of Bioversity, our new workforce training center to prepare underserved residents to access careers in the life sciences.
Kendalle then welcomed Petrina Martin Cherry, Vice President of Community Engagement and External Affairs at Boston Medical Center (BMC) for our opening keynote. Petrina walked through BMC’s model for advancing health equity and economic mobility, describing the realized need for us not to see this work as charity, but as essential to repairing the damage done over history which has resulted in the inequities we see today.
Our panel on clinical trial diversity explored the many facets of the topic that need to be carefully examined and actions taken in order to deliver equity in drug development, from design to recruitment and everything in between. Hosted by MassBio’s Director of DEI, Tom Browne, our panelists shared their own experiences of participating in clinical trials and being prescribed medicines that were known to have harmful effects on others like them. Not dwelling on the negatives, the panelists also celebrated the ways they have seen clinical trials done well and some lessons for attendees to consider when trying to improve treatments for underrepresented populations. In regards to the urgency of getting this right, Laura Williams, Chief Medical Officer at Ardelyx stated simply, “the patients are waiting”.
Joining Laura on our panel was:
- Sheila Phicil, Director of Innovation at Boston Medical Center
- Roberto Vincent, Director of Clinical Operations at Sarepta Therapeutics
- Colette Philips, President & CEO at Colette Phillips Communications
Heather Vono, Supplier Diversity Senior Program Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, delivered a special talk on how diversifying a company’s supply chain not only supports the financial prosperity of minority-owned businesses but also the health of their employees and communities from which they are born and operate.
It was important for us to create a space for collaboration where attendees could digest what they’d learned from our speakers and workshop this into actionable takeaways. Attendees spoke in small groups, facilitated by the talented Gina Morales-Taveras of Genunity, about their own experiences and hopes for the future if we are to successfully direct our focus and resources where they’re needed most. Discussions tackled issues such as prejudice and stereotyping, identity, religion, chronic pain, and healthcare costs, to name just a few.
Delivering our closing keynote was Crysta Dungee, US Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Takeda. Crysta shared her experiences in trying to counter (often justifiable) reluctance and distrust by diverse populations to the health care system and how we can all be more inclusive and action-oriented in order to remove barriers and connect with patients and their families.
The day ended with a networking reception with food and beverages provided by the following diverse vendors:
Thanks to the team at CommonWealth Kitchen for helping us to source these vendors.
If you’re looking to do more in health equity or DEI, reach out to MassBio’s Director of DEI, Tom Browne, at firstname.lastname@example.org.