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The killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer has brutally underlined the systemic racism that informs policing, housing, education, and health care in the U.S. Biotech, like every other facet of society, is not immune to the effects of racism and inequality.

We talked to Tony Coles, a longtime biotech executive, about why Floyd’s killing sparked global action, how to parse public statements from major drug companies, and what business leaders can do to combat racism.


Coles is chairman and CEO of Cerevel Therapeutics. He’s also founder and chairman of Yumanity Therapeutics. Previously, he was CEO of Onyx Pharmaceuticals until it was purchased by Amgen. He is also the CEO of NPS Pharmaceuticals and has served in executive positions at Vertex, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Merck. Coles is also a founding member and co-chair of the Black Economic Alliance, which is a coalition of business leaders who are committed to economic progress and prosperity in the Black community.

To begin, we’ll just simply ask how you’re doing.

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  • A bit surprized that STAT news delves into racism, the only link being “bio-tech CEO, nevertheless I find this a great interview of a truly inspirational man. I have never experienced racism, and I despise it. There is no difference in the humans underneath a different color skin. To me, this whole explosion of obviously festering resentment – on both side (black and white) is mind-bogling. What Tony Coles is striving for ought to be normal, not necessary. But as it clearly is, this eloquent respectable yet humble man is the perfect persona to bring about understanding and respect. Both elements seem to be lacking – and are the biggest hurdles – likely on both sides.

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