“After decades of trying to take on Big Pharma, we finally, finally won,” President Joe Biden said in Wednesday’s speech drumming up support for his healthcare agenda.

President Biden sang the praises of prescription drug cost enforcement and the industry’s voluntary insulin price cuts in a recent speech in which he asked for political support for his 2024 budget’s healthcare initiatives. Biden explained copay reductions Medicare enrollees will receive via the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August. 

This may be a great political win and will have far reaching consequences, but why must the pharma industry consistently be positioned as an opponent?  The government should seek “win-win” situations rather than “victories over …” situations. We still have a long way to go.

For example, the NIH Clinical Trial Diversity Act of 2023 (H.R. 3503), which was introduced to Congress on May 18, 2023, builds upon the NIH’s current policies to enhance the inclusion of women, racially and ethnically diverse individuals and people of all ages in all NIH-funded trials. The Bill is a wonderful first step, but it will ultimately fail to have “any meaningful impact on the actual health of minorities” unless the “back half of the equation” is addressed. 

High-risk minorities that grossly over-index any number of health issues receive little or no messaging regarding available treatments (medicines whose research was taxpayer funded).  While mainstream media audiences can pretty much sing the Ozempic song by heart, the data is staggering just how little information reaches these ethnic minority segments.

The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), The National Arab American Medical Association (NAAMA), and the Association of Philippine Physicians in America (APPA) seek a resolution to the problem of the pharma industry’s under-serving of numerous ethnic minorities. These physician associations representing nearly 250,000 American doctors agree that this new legislation is indeed laudable and certainly a step in the right direction — but merely a baby step.  

Dr. Omar Lattouf (former president of NAAMA and professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Emory University School of Medicine) states“This is an important first step; however, there’s little point including minorities in the clinical studies, then excluding them from the benefits of these medicines.”  

Dr. Maria Victoria Alfaro, CEO of the Noble Health Foundation agrees“I’m happy to see that Congress has finally taken steps to ensure that pharma companies include racial and ethnic minorities in their clinical trials. It’s progress, but there is more work to be done. Congress also needs to hold pharma companies accountable, that the federal funds invested in the research and development and the benefits of these drugs are marketed to all Americans. As a physician with decades of experience with minority communities, I can assure you that this is not the case for the vast majority of Filipino patients who are completely unaware of these new medications.”

According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, president of the East Coast chapter of AAPI: “More dollars should be spent on education than on research because what is the point of having research and advancement when they are not reaching the people?”

The minority disparity problem came to a head in tragic fashion during the pandemic, when markets that grossly over indexed in pandemic related hospitalizations (a situation called “a travesty” by CNN and NPR) received virtually none of the covid informational ad campaign dollars. This failure to utilize “in-culture” marketing resulted in greatly accelerated death rates in these communities. The pandemic is now over but the problem remains.

For years, multicultural media outlets have been reaching out to pharma companies and their agencies and have been completely and continually ignored. There is a serious moral and ethical aspect to this neglect because pharma companies receive billions in federal funding for their research. The NIH admonition “to exemplify and promote the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability and social responsibility” leaves one to question if pharma companies are meeting these mandates when they are in fact excluding millions of the highest-risk consumers. Shouldn’t all Americans be included?

Phillip Estevez, SVP of Emerging Networks, America’s largest multicultural TV platform, agrees that “Pharma is missing the boat. For years, we have been actively presenting this unique opportunity to pharma companies. Their national marketing efforts have a huge blind spot! There are millions of ethnic consumers that are not getting the commercial messaging of the lifesaving drugs they are marketing on the national mainstream TV networks. It’s a missed opportunity that can be easily remedied.”

We reached out to the NIH, NIMHD, FDA and the FTC to be part of a panel discussing this issue, as the NIH is the very one that distributes the federal funds for these medical research developments. Yet all of the government agencies have declined to participate in any such discussion.

Frankly, considering that we are talking about millions of high-risk, underserved, ethnic minority Americans, we were appalled at the lack of concern we were met with by these agencies and the “kick the can down the road” attitude we encountered. Is it possible there is no oversight?

Sen. Bernie Sanders expressed an interest in speaking at the conference initially but canceled. U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, Ro Khanna, Ami Bera and Raja Krishnamoorthi did not even reply to requests for comment. U.S. Representative Mike Lawler of New York stepped in and delivered a powerful admonishment of the current pharma marketing practices. (Rep. Mike Lawlor video attached)

We are on the precipice of a great opportunity to do the right thing, to ensure that pharma companies fulfill their covenant with the American people who fund their research, and ultimately to save lives. Now is the time and this piece of legislation is the perfect opportunity to correct this disparity. 

This new legislation should include oversight “post-development” to ensure the message about life saving medicines — developed with taxpayer money — reaches all Americans. Otherwise, all the benefits of including minorities in the clinical trials will have all been for nothing.

Pharma companies should not wait for Congress to pass the legislature and force their hand in their medical research developments, education and marketing medications to these ethnic consumers. For a country that’s nearly 50% multicultural, pharma companies should begin the integration of these ethnic communities now! It’s not only the right thing to do but will also open new lucrative consumer markets. And President Biden should encourage pharma companies to step up rather than villainize them.