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Massey director honored with $100 million fellowship in his name: The Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program

Dr. Robert Winn at the podium at the AACR meeting. Dr. Robert A. Winn addresses the American Association for Cancer Research after the association announced it was naming its Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program after him.

During the opening ceremony of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2022 on April 10, Robert A. Winn, M.D., director and Lipman Chair in Oncology at VCU Massey Cancer Center, stood on a stage in New Orleans, Louisiana, before an in-person audience of approximately 20,000 people and thousands more online.

At the ceremony, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF), together with its partners, National Medical Fellowships (NMF) and the AACR, announced a new name for the $100 million, five-year initiative they launched in 2020 to increase diversity in clinical trials: The Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program. The program also received $14 million in funding over the next four years from a new supporter, Gilead Sciences, Inc.

“Develop the grace and humility of understanding that there is much to learn from our communities as we are working with [them] to drive and improve health for all of our communities,” Winn said during his acceptance speech, sharing his hopes for the program bearing his name.

Winn was the only African American director of a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center when he was appointed in 2019, and he is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, such as the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences Program Lifetime Achievement Award. Serving as chair of the National Advisory Committee of the BMSF Diversity in Clinical Trials Career Development Program from its inception, Winn’s guidance was instrumental in shaping the program.

“We could not be more proud of Dr. Robert Winn and his strong and effective leadership. As both a compassionate healthcare provider, teacher, mentor and scientist, Rob is deeply committed to ensuring that clinical trials are truly more inclusive and represent the broad diversity of our population, so that trials accurately capture data from all of our people and also that all have access to new treatments, including treatments that will give many a rare chance to stay alive,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health. “He has worked tirelessly to connect science with our many different communities, so that our work reflects the needs of all of the people whom we serve. Rob's passion for cancer research, teaching the next generation of empathetic and deeply thoughtful providers, and his boundless energy are unmatched. There's no one more deserving of this recognition. I'm delighted and proud of him.”

“We are proud and overjoyed that Dr. Winn has agreed to put his name on this program,” said John Damonti, BMSF president. “He has been a tireless advocate for the goal of this program - enabling people of color and underserved populations to benefit more from clinical research. Throughout his distinguished career, he has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to community-engaged research focused on eliminating health inequities. It is largely due to his leadership, expertise and passion that the program became a reality.”

The Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program includes two awards: the Robert A. Winn Career Development Award for early-stage investigator physicians who are from diverse backgrounds and/or committed to increasing diversity in clinical trials and the Robert A. Winn Clinical Investigator Pipeline Program Award for medical students who are underrepresented in medicine (URM). The BMSF has committed to support 250 Winn Career Development Awards and 250 Winn Pipeline Awards. In addition, Gilead Sciences has committed to support 10 of each award per year for the next four years.

“I am honored to be such a small part of a big program that will have tremendous impact for years to come,” Winn said.

Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (hc), CEO of the AACR, said Winn richly deserved the honor.

“The AACR and the cancer research community as a whole have benefited greatly from his leadership on issues of diversity, equity and community engagement,” Foti said. “His innovative efforts are helping to transform cancer research into a more inclusive field of investigation that supports minority scientists and physicians and understands the urgency of addressing the disparities that have impacted underserved communities for far too long. It is fitting to name this exciting, impactful program after him.”

The first cohort of Winn Career Development Award Scholars entered the program in November 2021. These physicians are from 22 states across the U.S. and include 34 women and 18 men who represent a diverse cross section of races and ethnicities, as well as a range of experiences in the therapeutic focus areas of cancer (hematologic and solid tumors), immunologic disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

Their two-year participation in the program began with an intensive AACR educational workshop on “best-in-class” clinical trial design, followed by training in the skills and competencies needed to effectively engage with communities to foster trusted relationships aimed at recruiting diverse clinical trial participants. The Winn Career Development Award Scholars are paired in mentoring relationships with established clinical investigators and also serve as mentors to URM medical students in the Winn Pipeline Award program.

"What an incredible honor for Rob, the Massey Cancer Center and VCU to have the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation rename its $100M, five-year initiative to increase diversity in clinical trials after him. Rob’s impact on cancer care in Virginia and across the U.S. is immense,” said Art Kellermann, M.D., M.P.H., senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System. “Our nation needs more physician-scientists like him to overcome centuries of disparate health care. Rob believes that every cancer patient — regardless of their race, ethnicity, background or income — deserves great care. That includes access to the latest state-of-the art clinical trials. This fund will bring that day closer to reality across our country.”

Michellene Davis, Esq, president and CEO of NMF, added: “This program is a game-changer in the fight to advance health equity and to make both the field and practice of clinical research more inclusive. It provides a critical on-ramp for physicians and students underrepresented in medicine to become clinical investigators and lead community-oriented research that benefits all populations. Community-oriented research, led by diverse clinical trialists, is essential to help dismantle systemic and structural racism and to overcome the well-earned historical and present-day mistrust that communities of color have of medical research. The mentorship woven into the program is essential to career advancement and professional resiliency, which are especially important for those underrepresented in medicine.”

For more information about The Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program established by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, visit diversityinclinicaltrials.org.

Re-purposed with permission from a press release issued by BMSF

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