Given her breadth and experience from matters ranging from FDA legislation to medical devices to regulatory risk and compliance, it’s fairly evident that Deputy General Counsel (DGC) Kenita Barrow could be just about wherever she wants.
The child of physician parents and the benefactor of the prestigious Meyerhoff Scholarship at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Barrow’s has remained at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Companies for over ten years and three promotions. Her reasoning behind her tenure stems from her belief that the organization can have a critical impact on diversity, both in the legal department and within the communities and populations it serves.
Award-Winning Focus on Diversity
Barrow has written on both creating pathways for diversity in the medical technology space, as well as achieving more equity in clinical trials. With Otsuka’s progressive push to be a leader in these spaces, the DGC has been able to push for equality, both internally and externally.
She helped create the award-winning Diversity Accelerator Program, which welcomes both full- and part-time secondees, who eventually return to law firms with new experience and skill sets. The Association of Corporate Counsel National Capitol Region honored the effort for its innovation and ingenuity with the “In-House Innovator” award.
“My thought has always been that I would like our external counsel to reflect the diversity that I see in-house,” Barrow explains. “What we have found is that it’s not just asking for a diverse legal team, it’s thinking through how we can help grow these people with us to the next level. Is there a way to impact their own trajectories?”
The program hasn’t just created better lawyers, it’s built strong and lasting relationships between the firms and the business because they recognize the value of providing valuable experience for up-and-coming legal leaders.
Equity in Clinical Trials
Barrow’s leadership role includes heading the MedTech Color Collaborative Community (MTCCC), a forum where medtech professionals and other stakeholders discuss minority health issues in the field. The vital platform helps drive conversations about making the space more supportive and open to people of all backgrounds.
The MTCCC also leads ideas on achieving equity in clinical trials. As Barrow herself wrote, while making up 13.4 percent of the US population, African Americans only comprise 5 percent of clinical trials. It’s even worse for Latinos. Representing 18.1 percent of the population, Latinos/Hispanics only account for 1 percent of trial participants.
“There also exists an inherent mistrust in the medical system, which impacts the willingness of underrepresented groups to seek out medical care or participate in clinical trials,” Barrow writes. “Fostering relationships with physician groups and patient advocacy organizations is a critical step in building such trust. Equally important is creating and supporting community education and hearing trusted voices’ views on health and wellness.”
The DGC helps Otsuka understand the importance of focusing on underrepresented populations. If they aren’t connecting with patients where they are, there is a good chance those patients will never find the access points to get what might be life-changing medications or technology.
“These are very complex questions, and it’s about finding creative ways to do clinical trials and create access, reaching out to the community, and helping create trust,” Barrow says. “It also says a lot that Otsuka has demonstrated the willingness to spend money behind these initiatives, to walk the walk.”
Investing in Others
As Barrow rose through the ranks of Otsuka, she sought the opportunity to invest in the development of those around her personally. Initially coming to the company as an individual contributor, the DGC has thrived as both a mentor and leader, investing in her team and watching them flourish.
“Once you start managing managers, the hardest part for me is taking a step back and letting people grow,” she says. “That’s a skill I’ve really had to grow into, but if you’re going to let someone succeed, you have to be willing to take those training wheels off and let them go.”
Kenita Barrow’s latest success is a secondee who has actually come in-house at Otsuka. “Every time I see her, I just want to tell her that she’s amazing and is going to do great things,” she says, laughing. “Those are the best parts of my job.”
McDermott Will & Emery: “Kenita Barrow is not only an accomplished corporate counsel with broad life science experience, she is a thoughtful leader and dedicated mentor. As the Deputy General Counsel at Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., Kenita leverages her scientific background and industry knowledge to help business leaders drive mission-critical solutions,” says Vernessa Pollard, Leader of FDA Practice and Cochair of Global Life Sciences Practice.