This week marks the start of Black History Month and Genentech is utilizing the latest installment of its #MSVisibility campaign to underscore the challenges facing Black patients who have multiple sclerosis (MS).  

Launched earlier this month, the Breaking Barriers video series highlights the unique obstacles to MS care faced by Black patients. These include the social determinants of health, gaps in the cultural competency among healthcare professionals and the misperception that only white women are affected by MS. 

Genentech has been a longtime player in the MS space, most recently launching a direct-to-consumer campaign for Ocrevus in both English and Spanish languages in October titled More Progress, Less Progression.

Jennifer Kim, VP and head of neuroimmunology at Genentech Marketing, spoke with MM+M about the expectations for Breaking Barriers, the involvement of P-Valley actor Brandee Evans in the campaign and what else the pharma giant has planned for 2023. 

This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

MM+M: What was the genesis for the campaign and why focus specifically on MS in the Black community?

Kim: As a leader in MS, we are committed to doing our part to build more equitable healthcare, particularly in Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities where the impact is disproportionate. We know MS is a progressive disease from the start, making it critical for all patients to be diagnosed and receive treatment as early as possible. 

This is particularly important for Black and Hispanic/Latinx people whose MS may progress faster and overall is more severe, yet they continue to be underdiagnosed and undertreated. We know all too well that healthcare is not always equitable and that the Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities often face inequalities — such as cultural differences, social determinants of health, and gaps in cultural competency and humility among the healthcare workforce — that lead to less access and worse health outcomes. 

We first kicked off the #MSVisibility movement in 2021 to recognize diversity in MS. We then launched our first #MSVisibility: Breaking Barriers video series focused on the Hispanic/Latinx MS community in March 2022, with an accompanying Spanish-language landing page offering in-language resources and educational tools and tips to help aid in breaking through cultural barriers to enable better MS care. 

Our latest installment of #MSVisibility: Breaking Barriers, which launched in early 2023, is focused on the Black MS experience. While MS continues to be thought of as a White woman’s disease, it can be equally or even more common among Black people, who make up 15% of the MS population, particularly women.

We’ve been listening to and learning from the Black MS community for a long time, with the aim of helping to address these burdens. We’ve heard loud and clear that they want to feel acknowledged and see better representation and understanding of the challenges Black people living with MS face in accessing health resources. That’s what we’re aiming to do with this latest installment of #MSVisibility: Breaking Barriers. 

We’ve designed the program to provide resources and education tailored to their unique MS experience. Our hope is to empower Black people with MS to self-advocate to receive better care, including getting the right diagnosis and starting early treatment with a high-efficacy disease-modifying therapy, which may help slow progression of disability.

MM+M: How does this campaign factor into Genentech’s prior work in the MS space?

Kim: As a company deeply rooted in scientific discovery, we equally value the patient communities we serve and are committed to doing our part to combat health inequities. 

We’re making a significant investment in advancing the care of underrepresented people with MS and have been working with key stakeholders, including patients and advocates, to build more equitable healthcare in Black and Hispanic/Latinx MS communities. 

We have been listening to the needs of these communities who continue to be underdiagnosed and undertreated, to identify gaps and opportunities that we can address and to more meaningfully engage with them to improve diagnosis and patient treatment experience. We know equitable healthcare cannot be achieved overnight or with any one-dimensional solution. 

While we all need to be involved in the solution, we are proud to be making progress by advancing inclusive research. We’re conducting a Phase IV CHIMES study, the first-ever clinical trial to focus exclusively on Black and Hispanic/Latinx people living with MS in the U.S. We’re also improving access to critical health information through initiatives like #MSVisibility and culturally relevant support for patients.

MM+M: Can you explain Brandee Evans’ involvement and why she was crucial to the effort?

Kim: The campaign includes three short videos featuring a group of influential Black women connected to MS. However, they’re presented in different ways, bringing depth to the conversations about the Black MS experience, finding strength in vulnerability and the power of self-advocacy. 

Brandee Evans is a paid spokesperson for the campaign and shares her perspective as a caregiver along with her struggles and triumphs related to her journey as an around-the-clock support partner for her mother, while also balancing her rising career in Hollywood. 

Brandee understands the power of community and that’s why she teamed up with this dynamic group of women to share her advice and help inspire others to advocate for better MS care. 

Other perspectives you’ll hear from in the videos include: Mitzi Joi Williams, MD, FAAN, a neurologist and MS specialist; Azure Antoinette, a poet and advocate who diagnosed with MS in 2009; Victoria Reese, founder of the MS advocacy group We Are ILL, who was diagnosed in 2012); and Dana Spencer, a Genentech diversity & inclusion board member.

MM+M: What more can we expect to see from Genentech on this front this year?

Kim: We are excited to share that two of the women featured in the video series appeared on Sherri Shepherd’s daytime talk show during a sponsored segment on January 25. They spoke about the Black MS experience, the importance of inclusive research in MS and previewed the new #MSVisibility video content. 

As we continue our conversations with the Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities, our goal is to understand how to more meaningfully engage with these communities to improve diagnosis and patient treatment experience.

There is much more to unpack, so we plan on continuing to roll out new resources. In the meantime, Genentech’s first-of-its-kind landing page is live on, dedicated to the Black MS experience. 

In addition to the video series, viewers will find educational tools and tips created specifically for Black people living with MS — including an MS care tip sheet developed in partnership with Dr. Williams and links to resources from advocacy organizations.