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VCU to lead effort to increase diversity in clinical trials

Crystal Graham

vcu healthVirginia Commonwealth University is partnering with the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation and working alongside the American Association for Cancer Research and Gilead Sciences, Inc. to lead the implementation of the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program, a national program created to transform the clinical research landscape with the goal of increasing diversity in clinical trials.

Initiated in 2020, this five-year program was established by the BMSF with a $100 million commitment to train and develop community-oriented clinical trialists.

In April 2021, Gilead Sciences joined as a program supporter with a funding commitment of $14 million.

The Winn Awards is based out of VCU Massey Cancer Center under the direction of Robert A. Winn, M.D., the center’s director and Lipman Chair in Oncology.

Originally launched as the BMSF Diversity in Clinical Trials Career Development Program, the program was renamed in honor of Winn, a leader in establishing a 21st century model for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the oncology workforce. Winn has been nationally recognized for community engagement efforts in promoting new approaches to building trust among populations previously disenfranchised from healthcare or excluded or abused by research. The only African American director of a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center when he was appointed in 2019, Winn also serves as chair of the national advisory committee and his vision and guidance were instrumental in shaping the program.

“We cannot eliminate health disparities if clinical trial participants don’t reflect the diversity of our population,” said Winn. “This collaborative effort will allow us to support the education and careers of students and physicians who will play a crucial role in ensuring that we can offer everyone – no matter their background or geography – equal access to the latest treatments, and that we connect the needs of the community with the research we perform.”

The Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program includes two awards: the Robert A. Winn Career Development Award for early-stage investigator physicians who are from diverse backgrounds and/or committed to increasing diversity in clinical trials, and the Robert A. Winn Clinical Investigator Pathway Program for medical students who are underrepresented in medicine.

The program aims to train, develop and mentor more than 290 diverse and community-oriented clinical trialists and 290 medical students by 2027.

Through the program, participants will be trained as world-class clinical research scientists with additional knowledge, skills and competencies in community outreach and engagement strategies to effectively partner with communities throughout the research continuum. These physician investigators will have the potential to transform the clinical research landscape by conducting clinical trials designed with the goal of increasing the diversity of their participants.

The awardees represent a diverse cross section of races and ethnicities and bring a widely varied perspective and range of experiences to the program, as well as to their research focus in the therapeutic areas of cancer (hematologic and solid tumors), immunologic disorders and cardiovascular diseases. The program aspires to build a national network of individuals committed to clinical trial diversity across the clinical research landscape. It includes a multi-level mentorship model that is designed to ensure that Winn scholars and students have access to supportive mentors and further provides them with an opportunity to serve as a mentor. The Winn CDA scholars are paired in mentoring relationships with established senior clinical investigators, and also serve as mentors to Winn CIPP students.

“The support and community provided to this diverse group of physician scientists and students offers them a pathway to career advancement and opportunities for growth that they may not have otherwise encountered,” said Joy L. Jones, Ph.D., chief program officer of the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program. “The enthusiasm and genuine interest from academia, industry, government and communities to see this program succeed have been incredibly heartening. It is exhilarating to see the passion and intelligence the awardees bring to bear on our shared mission to build community trust and increase diversity in clinical trials.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.