Central Arkansas’ Innovation Hub awarded national grant from West Coast pharmaceutical giant Gilead Science
December 14-20, 2020
By Wesley Brown
Gilead Sciences Inc., which is at the forefront of efforts to find a COVID-19 vaccine, announced on Wednesday (Dec. 12) that the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock was selected among 20 “high-impact organizations” across the U.S. to receive part of a $10 million grant fund to tackle racial inequities affecting Black communities across the U.S.
According to Gilead officials, the Forest City, Calif.-based pharmaceutical giant’s Racial Equity Community Impact Fund that posted annual revenues of nearly $23 billion in 2019 will initially provide $10 million in grants to 20 organizations over a three-year period in three focus areas. They include:
• Community Advocacy and Mobilization: Groups that organize and mobilize communities to join the quest for racial equity and social justice, working toward an equitable distribution of resources for Black communities.
• Social Justice: Organizations and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) training the next generation of leaders.
• Educational Innovation: Institutions focused on providing educational advancement and career development services for Black students, young professionals and families from cradle to career.
“Gilead is committed to creating equitable opportunities for the patients we serve, our employees and the communities in which we live and work,” said Gilead Science Chairman and CEO Daniel O’Day. “The Racial Equity Community Impact Fund will provide resources to groups that are working on the frontlines to combat social inequities directly impacting the health and wellness of the Black community. This program is one of the ways that we are delivering on our commitment to promote racial equity and social justice.”
Besides the Innovation Hub, which is part of Winrock International and led by Executive Director Dr. Chris Jones, the other U.S.-based organizations that will receive funding include 100 Black Men of Metropolitan Houston, Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD), Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, Center for Racial Justice in Education, Claflin University, East Oakland Youth Development Center, the Equity Alliance, Grantmakers for Girls of Color, Harlem Children’s Zone, Horatio Williams Foundation, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, Morehouse College, Shaw University, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), Spelman College, Tougaloo College, Ubuntu Inc. and Xavier University of Louisiana.
“We are appreciative of Gilead for recognizing the challenges facing Black, LatinX, Marshallese, rural, and other underserved communities throughout Arkansas. Gilead’s strategic partnership with the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub leverages an innovative, multilingual, and multigenerational approach to address long-standing issues of inequity and social injustice amongst Arkansas’s diverse populations”, said Jones, is a nuclear engineer and graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta who took over leadership at The Hub in early 2018.
“Working together with Gilead, we will expand and deepen our impact, providing digital literacy for families navigating virtual learning, workforce development and skills training for those seeking career enhancement, and STEM classes and competitions for youth across the state,” said Jones.
The Racial Equity Community Impact Fund is among several programs implemented at Gilead in 2020 in social justice. Gilead has also launched the Advancing Black Leadership Strategy, backed by the company’s executive leadership team, to deliver on internal inclusion and diversity goals, including increasing the number of Black employees hired and providing advancement opportunities for the company’s existing employees.
In July, the company announced a $1 million partnership with the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black communities and to support the creation of a Black Health Equity Alliance composed of national thought leaders, community representatives, scholars, researchers and policymakers. This followed donations to the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s Know Your Rights Camp, Race Forward, the Equal Justice Initiative and Campaign Zero amid the violence against Black communities earlier this year.
Gilead’s social justice work also includes other initiatives aimed at promoting equity, particularly in healthcare and for individuals in underserved communities. The company said it has committed more than $100 million over 10 years through the Gilead COMPASS Initiative to community organizations in the southern U.S. working to combat HIV/AIDS and in 2019 started the TRANScend Community Impact Fund to support organizations committed to improving the safety, health and wellness of the transgender community.
Earlier this year amid the national protests following the George Floyd killing, Gilead also established a global diversity council across its 12,000-person global workforce that will be responsible for governance, tracking progress and helping further company’s culture of inclusion. Chaired by Gilead Science CEO Daniel O’Day, the council has introduced a multi-year initiative to use Gilead’s platform to address racial injustice and diversity issues both inside and outside the San Francisco area biotech firm. Gilead also plans to increase its capital spend and partner with more Black-and African American-owned businesses over the next five years, company officials said.
As the first U.S. pharmaceutical firm to gain approval from the National Institute of Health to begin Phase 3 clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine in late February, Gilead included an evaluation of the safety and efficacy of remdesivir across different racial and ethnic patient subgroups treated in the U.S. The Silicon Valley-based biopharmaceutical firm said it found that traditionally marginalized racial or ethnic groups treated with remdesivir in this study experienced similar clinical outcomes as the overall patient population in the study.
Recognizing the need to address the impact of COVID-19 and other diseases on communities of color, Gilead and the Satcher Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine are now working together to develop a real-time, public-facing and comprehensive health equity data platform.
The tool will provide the ability to collect and study the demographic disparities associated with COVID-19, with the goal of using this data to help create actionable, evidence-based policy changes to attain health equity and ensure that disproportionately impacted communities receive resources and support. The database will also examine comorbidities associated with COVID-19, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, sickle cell anemia and depression.
Remdesivir is currently an investigational, unapproved drug and has shown a 70% efficacy rate against COVID-19, only approved in Japan as a treatment for patients infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted remdesivir a temporary Emergency Use Authorization for the treatment of hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19 in June, but that does not take the place of the formal new drug application submission, review and approval process.
In early November, Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. announced they had completed Phase 3 clinical trials on investigational vaccines that have demonstrated evidence of nearly 95% efficacy against COVID-19 in participants without prior evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Both vaccines are awaiting fast-track authorization from the FDA and are expected to begin distributed doses to all 50 states by the end of this year.
Jones, who took over leadership at the Central Arkansas nonprofit serving creatives, makers and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in March 2018, credited his staff for putting together the winning proposal for the Gilead grant. He said The Hub’s Deputy Director Erin Stanger and researcher Dr. Pierce Gordon, the inaugural Innovation Fellow at the local nonprofit and San Francisco area native, played key roles in putting together the agency’s plan that was submitted to Gilead in early November.
Among many things, the proposal includes local projects that will focus The Hub’s community advocacy and social justice outreach on virtual learning, digital literacy, STEM workforce and career training, and innovation challenges that involve problem solving.
“The projects in (our) proposals are the ones that Gilead Sciences knows we will focus on, but their funding is really to support the Innovation Hub and any work that we feel will help advance racial equity and social justice,” Jones told The Daily Record.
The Arkansas Innovation Hub was named one of 20 U.S. organization to receive part of Gilead Science’s $10 million Racial Equity Community Impact Fund.