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Meharry Medical College, Pharma Firms to Build Large-Scale African Ancestry Genomics Database

NEW YORK – Meharry Medical College, Regeneron Genetics Center, AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, and Roche said on Wednesday that they aim to build the largest African ancestry genomics research database to date, seeking up to 500,000 participants, and to increase educational opportunities in STEM fields for African Americans.

Named the Together for CHANGE (Changing Healthcare for People of African Ancestry through an InterNational Genomics & Equity) initiative, the project is funded with $80 million — $20 million from each of the industry partners. Regeneron Genetics Center, a subsidiary of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, will also pay for and conduct the sequencing.

The Diaspora Human Genomics Institute (DHGI), a nonprofit established through a partnership between historically Black medical colleges led by Meharry, will serve as the governing body for the Together for CHANGE initiative.

DHGI will work with the local Black community to help build an African ancestry genomics research database of de-identified genomic and phenotypic data from up to 500,000 volunteers. The institute will secure and manage data generated throughout the project and will form an ethics committee with leaders from the Black community to provide stewardship of the data.

Additionally, the DHGI will establish a grant program to support research and education in genomics and related fields at Meharry Medical College, as well as broader STEM programs in racially diverse communities for grade school-aged children.

Accenture will also provide support as a strategic partner to the DHGI as the program rolls out.

"Historically, African Americans have been — and continue to be — underrepresented in scientific and medical research, as well as in STEM careers, negatively impacting both health outcomes and career opportunities for this population," James Hildreth Sr., president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, said in a statement. "Working with our local community and biopharmaceutical partners, we are eager to bring to life a vision of more equitable healthcare through the Together for CHANGE initiative."

Last year, Meharry Medical College was one of four historically Black medical colleges to receive $11.5 million each from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to support genomics research.