Driven by its mission to transform patients’ lives through science, Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) is making great strides to improve health equity, diversity, and inclusion, particularly in the areas of clinical trials and within the organization.

In August 2020, the global biopharmaceutical company and its foundation announced separate investments of $150 million each over the next five years focused on addressing health disparities, increasing clinical trial diversity, and expanding U.S. employee giving. In addition, the company is also expanding its supplier diversity program and focused on increasing workforce diversity.  

Clinical trial diversity is an important element, affecting research across the country, including here in Wisconsin.

BMS is working to extend the reach of clinical trials into underserved patient communities in urban and rural U.S. locations – the company has made a commitment that by 2022, 25% of its U.S. trial sites will be located in more racially and ethnically diverse metro areas. And the BMS Foundation is focused on training and mentoring 250 racially and ethnically diverse clinical investigators.

Why It’s Important

Gender, age, race, and ethnic origin of a patient can sometimes play a role in how a potential treatment may work, so it’s important to include diverse patient populations in clinical trials. Including diverse populations also ensures that the trial participants are truly representative of the patients who live with the condition being studied.

The COVID-19 pandemic magnified these disparities. Black individuals represent about 13% of the population and Latinx communities represent about 18%. But Food and Drug Administration data reveals that enrollment of these groups in clinical trials is less than 5% and that in general, 80% of patients taking place in clinical trials are white.

Dr. Samit Hirawat, Chief Medical Officer of Global Drug Development for BMS, is the executive sponsor of a research and development working group dedicated to increasing diversity in clinical trials.

“Where a person lives should not define whether or not they have an opportunity to participate in a trial,” Dr. Hirawat said. “We are working towards real systemic change. For clinical trials, driving this kind of change will mean broader representation which leads to better science; and better science leads to safer and more appropriate medical practice and care for all of us. We need to continue to discover, develop and deliver effective medicines for all patients and not some.”

How It’s Working

In November, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation and National Medical Fellowships announced a partnership aimed at improving diversity in clinical trials. Leveraging $100 million of the total commitment announced a few months prior, the partnership created a program to train and develop 250 new community-oriented clinical investigators who are racially and ethnically diverse or who have a demonstrated commitment to increasing diversity in clinical trials.

Since the application process opened in January, the program has received an overwhelming response. The first 50 program participants will begin the program in November with a workshop on community outreach and clinical trial execution delivered by the American Association for Cancer Research.

Additionally, the program will assist investigators in building capacity and starting new clinical trial sites in communities with diverse and heavily burdened patient populations.

In February, BMS announced it had donated $11 million to 56 nonprofit organizations focused on advancing health equity in the U.S. Those funds included 11 grants aimed at improving diversity in clinical trials through increasing access in underserved communities, addressing barriers to participation, and decreasing disparities in cell and gene therapy.

Being the Example

As important is the work BMS is committed to doing for its own employees and within the organizational structure.

In September, the BMS Foundation started providing a 2-to-1 match for U.S. and Puerto Rico employee donations to organizations that fight social injustice and discrimination.

The company has also promised to spend $1 billion globally by 2025 with Black/African American and other diverse-owned businesses to help create jobs and generate positive economic impact in diverse communities often hard-hit financially by systemic injustices.

And BMS has taken significant steps to transform its culture. The organization reached gender parity in 2015. By 2022, the goal is to achieve gender parity at the executive level globally; double executive representation of Black/African American employees in the U.S.; and double executive representation of Hispanic/Latino employees in the U.S.

“We want to make a big impact. We’re really trying to entrench this in our business, in how we operate and how we function as an organization,” Dr. Hirawat said.

To learn more about BMS and its commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion, visit