FAMU among HBCUs to collaborate in Novatis’ health equity initiative

Larry Robinson

By Andrew J. Skerritt
FAMU Office of Communications

Florida A&M University is among more than 25 Historically Black Colleges and Universities to benefit from a 10-year commitment from Swiss multinational pharmaceutical Novatis and the Novatis U.S. Foundation to co-create programs to address the root causes of disparities in health and education. 

 The initiative is a collaboration with Coursera, an open online course provider, the National Medical Association, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Morehouse School of Medicine and 26 other HBCUs and medical schools. The intent is to co-create programs that address the root causes of systemic disparities in health outcomes and create greater diversity, equity and inclusion across the research and development ecosystem.

FAMU President Larry Robinson and other leaders from higher education, companies, and other organizations have signed a pledge to co-develop programs focused on building trust in the health-care system with communities of color and making measurable progress towards health equity. 

Working together with the communities they aim to impact, the collaboration will focus on improving access to high-quality education, technology, improved health outcomes, and promising jobs; increasing clinical trial and clinical trial investigator diversity; addressing inherent bias in the data standards used to diagnose and treat disease; and finding actionable solutions to environmental and climate issues that disproportionately affect health among communities of color.

“We welcome the Novatis initiative as an opportunity to enhance our health care programs’ ability to recruit and prepare more graduates and develop innovations to address the complex issue of health care disparities,” Robinson said. “In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic impacts on persons of color are exacerbated by these persistent inequities in health care. 

“This collaboration gives us additional tools to change that.” 

The collaboration is expected to create actionable solutions to target the systemic racism that drives inequitable health outcomes and work together for health equity progress through greater diversity, equity and inclusion across the research and development ecosystem. 

Part of the plan is for Novartis U.S. Foundation to invest about $13.7 million to establish three digitally enabled research centers at Morehouse School of Medicine, including a clinical trial center of excellence that could be a model for possible expansion to other HBCU medical schools, to increase diversity among clinical trial investigators and participants.

“At Novartis, we envision a world with equity in health for all. Just as there are a multitude of factors and causes behind racial disparities in health and education, there is no single solution to this critical challenge,” said Dr. Vas Narasimhan, CEO of Novartis. “It will take the concerted, urgent action of diverse stakeholders across the public and private sectors.

“We are honored and humbled to work together with these organizations to build enduring solutions to some of the most pressing, deeply rooted, and historic challenges in the United States, and we invite other like-minded companies and organizations to join us in creating this paradigm shift in health equity.”

Novartis U.S. Foundation also plans to invest $20 million in scholarships to help prepare up to 1,200 African American students to become the next generation of leaders in health, science, technology and business in collaboration with Thurgood Marshall College Fund.  

As an initial step, the Novartis U.S. Foundation plans to invest $20 million in scholarships, mentorships and research grants over the next 10 years to help create equitable access to high quality education and professional development for HBCU students in health-related fields.  

Administered by The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the program will provide three-year scholarships of $10,000 a year for up to 360 students at select Historically Black colleges, universities and medical schools.

Novartis employee volunteers will mentor up to 400 HBCU students, including the scholarship recipients, for a period of three years each for a total of up to 1,200 students. Students also will receive career readiness and leadership development training. HBCU undergraduate and medical school students will be encouraged and supported to apply for the Novartis annual internship program. Competitive faculty research grant program are offering up to 10 grants of $25,000 each year to HBCU faculty, focusing on actionable solutions to health equity issues.

“We are pleased to work with Novartis to answer the calls for urgent action to address the role that systemic racism plays in health disparities among Black people,” said Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “This kind of investment in HBCUs is critical to ensuring that Black students have opportunities to pursue influential roles in health, science and technology by eliminating barriers and creating pathways through mentorship and training.” 

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