Scientist holding a DNA sample with the results on a computer screen in a laboratory
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A new initiative to increase Black participation in genomic research has been launched by one of the oldest and largest historically Black academic health sciences centers in the U.S. in partnership with four pharmaceutical companies. One of the project’s aims is to build the world’s largest African ancestry genomics research database with 500,000 volunteer participants.

Meharry Medical College, Regeneron Genetics Center (RGC), AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, and Roche have teamed to create the Together for CHANGE (“Changing Healthcare for People of African Ancestry through an International Genomics & Equity”) initiative.

“People of African ancestry have been underrepresented in genomics studies, which leads to clinical genetic testing that has less reference data and less confident testing results,” said Aris Baras, MD, senior vice president, Regeneron, and head of Regeneron Genetics Center. 

The big pharmas have said they will make contributions worth $20 million during the initiative. Regeneron Genetics Center will undertake and fund the sequencing of genetic samples.

It is well documented that the representation of Black people in genomics databases is woeful and distorts medical treatment. Recent research, for example, showed that men of sub-saharan origin have a much higher risk of prostate cancer but distinctive biomarkers of the disease.

“As part of our contribution to the consortium and as a component of our ongoing African Genomics Program, Roche will be leading efforts to collect up to 20,000 samples and related phenotype data from diverse regions of Africa,” said James Sabry, global head of pharma partnering, Roche.

The initiative takes a two-pronged approach to address racial inequities in STEM careers and research. First, the Diaspora Human Genomics Institute (DHGI) will establish a grant program to support research and educational capacity in genomics and related fields at Meharry Medical College, as well as broader STEM programs in racially diverse communities for grade school-aged children. 

Second, through listening sessions and ongoing input from the Black community, the DHGI will aim to build the world’s largest African ancestry genomics research database, composed of de-identified genomic and phenotypic data from up to 500,000 volunteer participants. Data collected from the new initiative will be secured and managed by the DHGI to ensure the integrity and transparency of all activities of the initiative.

“Historically, African Americans have been—and continue to be—underrepresented in scientific and medical research, as well as in STEM careers, negatively impacting both health outcomes and career opportunities for this population,” said James E.K. Hildreth Sr., PhD, MD, president and chief executive officer, Meharry Medical College. 

He added that, “Working with our local community and biopharmaceutical partners, we are eager to bring to life a vision of more equitable health care through the Together for CHANGE initiative.”

“The STEM career pipeline is lacking in Black professionals whose presence will bring more diverse thoughts to solving research problems, which will better inform care for people of African ancestry, as well as inspire others to pursue scientific and medical careers,” said Lyndon Mitnaul, PhD, executive director, Research Initiatives, RGC. 

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