New Diversity and Inclusion Awards Aim to Promote Equity in Gene and Cell Therapy Research

David Barrett, J.D., M.S. - February 26, 2021

The application period for three new funding opportunities will open in June.

This past summer, the Society made a commitment to promoting justice and equity in gene and cell therapy research. After many months of planning, I am overjoyed to share the next steps in our efforts towards equity and opportunity in gene and cell therapy with the creation of three new research funding opportunities in 2021.

On June 7, 2020, the Society’s Board of Directors issued a statement of solidarity in response to the racially motivated killings of Black Americans. In that statement, the Society not only called out the violent injustice perpetrated against Black people, but acknowledged the existence of systemic inequities and racism in healthcare and research. A group of ASGCT members came together to form the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and began discussing ways to generate equity through fellowships and awards, mentorship programming, continuing education, Annual Meeting travel awards (someday!), and community outreach. Earlier this month, Rayne Rouce, M.D., a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, described the critical work of the committee and alluded to several new initiatives the Society is pursuing. Each of the committee’s suggestions was inventive and impactful, and we look forward to seeing how the finalized opportunities will affect lasting change in our field.

These new funding opportunities include the creation of the Society’s first two fellowship awards, which will both support underrepresented minorities in gene and cell therapy. Each of these awards will be funded up to $100,000 for one year.

One award will support an ASGCT Associate Member and postdoctoral or early-stage investigator who is Black, Indigenous, and/or Latinx with a research focus on gene and cell therapy for oncologic indications.

Another award will support an ASGCT Associate Member and postdoctoral or early-stage investigator who is from a racial or ethnic group underrepresented in the scientific workforce, as defined by the NIH. Applicants may focus their research on any indication or advancement of technology in gene and cell therapy.

We hope these fellowships lead to the alleviation of human disease, help elevate the careers of the successful applicants, spur innovation, and encourage early-career investigators from every walk of life to pursue gene and cell therapy. The application period for both will be open June 1 through July 22, with funding to begin by September 1, 2021.

Drawing on the success of our Career Development Awards model, the third new funding opportunity is the Award for Research on Conditions Disproportionately Affecting Minorities. This $50,000 award will support an ASGCT member’s research that focuses on gene and cell therapy for a condition that has a disproportionate impact on minorities and may include research for indications such as sickle cell disease or HIV/AIDS, among others. Eligibility for this award is not limited to post-docs or individuals who are themselves underrepresented minorities. The request for applications will launch in June and close in August along with the Society’s other awards.

We knew there was funding to bring several of these opportunities to life, but supporting all of them would be a challenge, even with our growing resources. With the generous support of Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) in the form of a $125,000 two-year grant, the Society is able to make each of these program ideas a reality. On behalf of the Society, I extend my thanks to BMS as well as the talented staff team at ASGCT who led the program development and fundraising efforts.

As pleased as I am to share these updates, I look forward even more to the day later this year when ASGCT announces the recipients of these three critically important awards. ASGCT cannot wait to celebrate these new fellows and awardees who will surely have lasting impact on the field of gene and cell therapy as well as the lives of the people their research will someday soon improve.

Read the other posts in this series, Diversity and Inclusion Committee Plans to Expand Society’s Reach and ResourcesClosing the Mentorship Gap for Minorities, and Supporting Gene Therapy Research and Access for Minority Populations.

David Barrett is the chief executive officer of ASGCT.

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