Feb 15, 2022

AbbVie and the University of Toronto Establish Endowed Chair in Ethnodermatology

Research, Education, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Giving, Inclusion & Diversity

$3-million donation to support diversity in dermatology research, training and care

Hands of individuals with diverse skin types

AbbVie, a global research and development-based biopharmaceutical company, has made a $3-million donation to establish a pioneering AbbVie Chair in Ethnodermatology at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine. One of the first positions of its kind in the world, the chair will drive collaborative academic research, provide advanced training to the next generation of dermatological practitioners, and lead outreach programs to better inform equitable, diverse and inclusive dermatological care in Canada and around the world. 

In a field that focuses on skin, dermatology has a particular responsibility to identify and address racial inequities that influence health outcomes,” says Dr. Patricia Houston, Temerty Medicine’s Acting Dean and Vice-Dean, Medical Education. “We now recognize there are major gaps in what we know about and how we teach the approach to assessment and treatment of different skin types. The creation of the AbbVie Chair in Ethnodermatology represents a milestone philanthropic investment in our Faculty’s ongoing efforts to advance health equity, and positions U of T, AbbVie and Canada as global leaders in the emerging field of inclusive dermatology.”

Endowed chairs are maintained in perpetuity and are among the most prestigious appointments in academia. They are a powerful recruitment tool for the most talented clinicians and researchers — allowing for advancement in scholarship and research, while also showcasing a long-term commitment to a specific discipline.

Filling Gaps and Addressing Inequities

The chair’s establishment comes in response to growing calls from clinicians, researchers and patients to address longstanding gaps and inequities in dermatological research, education and patient care. In particular, there is increased recognition of the need for new investigations into the distinct impacts of skin conditions on patients of colour, for better and more in-depth data on the disparities in dermatological care provided to different populations, as well as for greater representation of skin of colour in medical education programs and curricula. 

“Richly-pigmented skin is not the same in many ways — the biochemistry, biology and diseases that affect it are different,” says Dr. Marissa Joseph, assistant professor with U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine and medical director of the RKS Dermatology Centre at Women’s College Hospital. “By not studying and learning the differences in presentation of disease in skin of colour, there’s an increased likelihood of misdiagnosis, treatment delays, and/or the application of inappropriate treatment approaches – all of which can have catastrophic impacts on patients. As a clinician and educator, I welcome the creation of the AbbVie Chair in Ethnodermatology and believe it can be a powerful catalyst for change.”

The need for AbbVie’s gift has also never been more relevant – nor more pressing – than it is today. According to Statistics Canada demographic projections, the proportion of Canadians who belong to a visible minority group will increase greatly by 2031. Visible minority groups could soon comprise 63% of the population of Toronto, 59% of Vancouver and 31% of Montreal1.    

The inaugural chairholder will have a broad educational and research mandate. This will include leading the development of curricula to ensure future physicians and dermatologists are adequately trained to diagnose and treat skin conditions in persons of colour and to apply principles of inclusive dermatology, as well as undertaking much-needed clinical investigations into skin disorders and diseases’ distinct impact on people of colour.     

Tracey Ramsay, Vice-President and General Manager of AbbVie Canada adds, “We believe it is important to ensure all Canadians have equal, fair and inclusive disease care. Equality, diversity and inclusion are among our core corporate principles and the creation of this chair is a step forward in enhancing dermatology diversity and cultural inclusion. Together with U of T, we have an opportunity to be part of a solution that will evolve the way skin care is researched, taught and practiced in Canada and hopefully across the globe.”

Dr. Christina Pelizon, Country Medical Director, AbbVie Canada adds; “We’re focused on delivering treatments in areas of high unmet medical need and as a leader in dermatology research and treatment, AbbVie is committed to the pursuit of innovation. Ultimately, this Chair will provide us a better understanding on how we can continue to make a remarkable impact on the lives of people living with serious skin diseases.”


1 “Ethnic diversity and immigration”, Canada Yearbook 2011. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/11-402-x/2011000/pdf/ethnic-ethnique-eng.pdf?st=RK5ALCv9