By Mikael Dolsten, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer and President, Worldwide Research, Development and Medical, Pfizer
I have always appreciated that science by its very nature invites us to challenge current views and advance new medical insights. Diversity of thought is vital to advancements in the field, as different perspectives and experiences lead to more carefully considered hypotheses and more well-rounded solutions. That is why I have continually sought the input of others throughout my career, to refine and improve my thinking.
What I have grown to value even more over time is that this search for diversity among collaborators must extend across all measures, including race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age and more. Only by assembling a team of people who represent the breadth of humanity can those practicing science ensure their work is of the highest caliber – leaving no idea, no consideration unturned. We need every point of view to drive more creative problem solving and bigger scientific breakthroughs.
Pfizer’s commitment to this notion is exactly why we recently launched our Breakthrough R&D Rotational Program. This two-year program – developed for recent college graduates who identify as historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) – is designed to support the improvement of Black and Latinx representation in the life sciences, which is currently estimated at 10%. Through this transformational opportunity, graduates will gain real-world experience across a variety of drug discovery and development disciplines at Pfizer, working side-by-side with leading scientists, clinicians, statisticians, epidemiologists and other professionals. The program is now in its initial phase, with the first graduates accepting offers this month to pursue rotations at our pilot sites: Groton, Conn., and Cambridge’s Kendall Square.
Cambridge is a critical location to pilot the Breakthrough R&D Rotational Program. Not only is the Boston/Cambridge area the heart of the life sciences industry in the United States, it is an area of significant economic inequality, largely stratified by race.[i] There are hundreds of life sciences companies in Massachusetts with thousands of well-paying jobs that need to be filled – and yet there is an incredible, untapped pool of talent in the region: marginalized people who have been denied opportunities based on systemic issues in the scientific disciplines core to our industry, or who may view careers in STEM as inaccessible due to lack of representation. At Pfizer, our goal is to help remedy these shortcomings and this disconnect.
First, we must do our part to help redefine the awareness of and access to careers in life sciences. The Breakthrough R&D Rotational Program is an example of Pfizer’s intentional effort to introduce new pathways to life sciences careers, creating opportunities specifically for underrepresented minorities.
At the same time, Pfizer must continue to improve representation of marginalized people at every level of our organization, to provide role models for the next generation of rising scientists. This means increasing diversity not only among early-career scientists (through programs like the Breakthrough R&D Rotational Program) but among our leadership as well – those colleagues who are the most visible and influential within their professional spheres. And, through partnerships with local organizations and universities, we must continue to enable our colleagues who identify as underrepresented in STEM to speak directly to young people of color – so that children can see themselves in our scientists’ shoes.
Being aware of the inequities in our industry is the only way we can tackle them head on. Lack of representation in the life sciences is not something that can be fixed overnight. But, with our resources and scale, Pfizer has the opportunity to help shape the future of biopharmaceuticals – and hopefully generate even broader waves of influence.
The Breakthrough R&D Rotational Program will help create equal opportunity in STEM, broaden Pfizer’s pipeline of scientific talent and promote representation in one of the most world’s most vital industries. And, it will help us ensure the next generation of leaders is best positioned to find innovative solutions to the world’s most complex health challenges – as we discover, develop and deliver breakthrough medicines and vaccines for billions of patients. We need it now more than ever.
The full program, which will expand to incorporate other Pfizer research sites, will launch this fall; please visit Pfizer.com for more information.
[i] Muñoz A.P. et al. (2015). The Color of Wealth in Boston. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/one-time-pubs/color-of-wealth.aspx. Accessed May 19, 2021.