Novartis Pledges to Co-Create Measurable Solutions for Health Equity with Community to Address the Research & Development Ecosystem Challenge

By Patrice Matchaba, MD, President of the Novartis US Foundation and Head of US Corporate Responsibility

Health disparities affecting minority groups are endemic in the U.S., as highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic by the disproportionate rates of hospitalization and death in minority groups.1 Compared with non-Hispanic whites, the Black and African American community has a lower life expectancy, a higher mortality rate from cancer, a greater likelihood of diseases such as asthma, and significantly increased rates of maternal and infant mortality.2

Health inequity extends to Black and African American underrepresentation across medical systems – not just among clinical trial participants but also among medical school students, physicians, and clinical trial investigators.

In 2019, Black and African Americans comprised 13.4% of the U.S. population but only 6.2% of medical school graduates, 5% of practicing physicians, and an even smaller proportion of clinical trial investigators.3 The significant lack of ethnic and racial diversity in clinical trials and the broader research and development ecosystem is particularly stark.

To learn more about the issues that lead to inequity, we reached out to Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, President and CEO of Morehouse School of Medicine, a historically Black medical school in the U.S. She told us that Black students also need support with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) studies. Without support, those kids may never go to college, let alone medical school.

This was the beginning of the idea to create a 10-year plan to increase the support for students of color with scholarships and to partner with historically Black colleges and medical schools to increase the number of Black health care professionals. This is about working together to change the whole community.

Novartis and the Novartis U.S. Foundation plan to form a 10-year collaboration with Morehouse School of Medicine and 26 other Historically Black Colleges, Universities, Medical Schools, and other leading organizations, including Coursera, the National Medical Association, and Thurgood Marshall College Fund, to co-create effective, measurable solutions for health equity.

There are multiple factors and causes behind racial disparities in education and health in the U.S. and there is no single solution to this critical challenge. It will take the concerted action of diverse stakeholders across public and private sectors to achieve a paradigm shift in health equity.

This collaboration aims to create actionable solutions to target the systemic racism that drives inequitable health and education outcomes in the U.S. The organizations plan to co-develop programs focused on building trust in the health care system with communities of color through greater diversity, equity, and inclusion across the research and development ecosystem.

Over an initial period of 10 years, the collaboration will focus on four key areas:

  1. Enable the next generation of Black and African American leaders by creating equitable access to high quality education and professional development for future leaders, in health science, technology, and business-related fields.
  2. Support the establishment of Digitally Enabled Clinical Trial Centers of Excellence, managed and led by clinical researchers of color, to build trust, increase diversity and inclusivity in clinical trials, and contribute to improved health outcomes for people of color.
  3. Research and validate existing data standards that drive diagnosis, clinical trial endpoints, and population health policy to identify areas for increased inclusivity and ensure accurate data collection and unbiased treatment decisions.
  4. Establish Digitally Enabled Research Centers on the impact of climate change and environment on health to identify environmental justice focused solutions to issues that disproportionately affect communities of color.

All parties will spend the next six months co-creating programs with the communities, including establishing the first clinical trial, data standards, environment, and health research centers at Morehouse School of Medicine. Each organization will bring its own expertise and resources to design and implement enduring solutions in these areas.

At Novartis, our purpose is to reimagine medicine to improve and extend the lives of all people – inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, location, and socioeconomic status. It is our responsibility to take a proactive and science-driven approach to tackle health care disparities.

To learn more about the Novartis Commitment to Diversity in Clinical Trials, please visit:

Novartis is a member of the National Health Council. For more information on membership, click here.


  3. Association of American Medical Schools: Diversity in Medicine: Facts and Figures 2019