Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Morgan State University have unveiled a novel program known as the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Fellowship in Vaccines Medical Development. A central aim of the program is to foster diversity in vaccine development.
In particular, the two-year DrPH program aims to increase the number of minority scholar-practitioners involved in vaccine development. In addition, the initiative will offer fellows training and networking opportunities to pave the way for leadership roles in the biopharma industry.
The program officially launched today.
Ronika Alexander-Parrish, a clinical scientist at Pfizer and founding director of the DrPH Fellowship, said the idea came out of brainstorming that began in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted healthcare inequity.
Alexander-Parrish said the company’s leadership embraced her vision of helping create a DrPH program that can change the narrative around vaccines and equity because Pfizer has equity embedded in its values. She conveyed how the program could help “embed the voices of marginalized populations into the work we do” while simultaneously improving diversity in vaccine development.
The DrPH program has a rotational component that exposes students to many elements involved in vaccine development. “Because these are public health students, and they’re not always a part of the biopharma infrastructure, we have embedded a certification in medicines development within this program,” Alexander-Parrish said.
The program will provide academic and professional credentialing, given the standardized training it offers in the first year. The program’s second year will allow fellows to dive deeper into a core area aligning with their interests. “We have a program we’re co-developing with our fellows,” Alexander-Parrish said.
The goal is for the program to support “colleagues who can contribute to changing the perception of biopharma — embedding that equity lens, while continuing the excellent work that we already do here to bring our vaccines to all of the patients that we serve,” Alexander-Parrish said.
Pfizer has previously worked to support students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The company also has created a nine-year Breakthrough Fellowship Program (BFP) that offers support to Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American individuals. The program aims to develop 100 fellows by 2025.
Alexander-Parrish said that the DrPH program has a similar goal of identifying and cultivating “untapped talent” at HBCUs. That talent has “long been overlooked,” she added.
Alexander-Parrish formerly worked as a public health nurse in Detroit, providing care to underserved populations. Afterward, she transitioned into academic research, where she learned more about the drivers of health inequity.
She sees the DrPH program as “a significant step” in addressing that inequity.
“The fellowship gives our students an opportunity to demonstrate how we can embed an equity lens in every piece of the process.” That spans everything from the evidence generation phase in vaccine development to concept development and implementation of clinical trials and the resulting data analysis from those studies.
“You can start to make that difference on the front end and then support that outcome on the back end when you are seeking to have diversity in clinical trials,” Alexander-Parrish said. “So this is kind of at the building stage, as opposed to the dissemination stage.”
Regarding how Pfizer identified Morgan State University as a partner, Alexander-Parrish noted that the university represented one of a handful of HBCUs with a doctorate-level program in public health.
Alexander-Parrish is also a Morgan State University graduate student.
“Pfizer has an HBCU strategy. And this program utilizes that strategy to fulfill our mission of providing breakthroughs that change patients’ lives, embedding that equity lens that we so desperately need to see across all evidence generation,” she said.
Filed Under: clinical trials, Drug Discovery, Drug Discovery and Development