BIO’s Women’s Health Task Force fosters greater innovation in women’s health – Bio.News

BIO's Women's Health Task Force fosters greater innovation in women’s health - Bio.News

During the State of the Union address on March 7, President Biden said, “Women are more than half of our population, but research on women’s health has always been underfunded. That’s why we’re launching the first-ever White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, led by Jill who is doing an incredible job as First Lady.” These comments come just a few months after the White House released its November 2023 memorandum on their initiative on women’s health research, which noted that the lack of research and data on women’s health “has left healthcare providers without important tools to diagnose and treat millions of women with debilitating conditions, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disorders, mental health conditions, and conditions specific to women such as endometriosis and fibroids.” Indeed, the state of women’s health research has been poor for as long as healthcare research has existed. Historically, healthcare research has focused on the symptoms and responses of men over women. This is due to a variety of factors both social and physiological, and the consequences are still felt in women’s health standards today. For example, as BIO has reported: “Women are much more likely to have atypical heart attack symptoms,” explains Dr. Lili Barouch, M.D., Director of the Johns Hopkins Columbia Heart Failure Clinic. “So while the classical symptoms, such as chest pains, apply to both men and women, women are much more likely to get less common symptoms such as indigestion, shortness of breath, and back pain, sometimes even in the absence of obvious chest discomfort.” But the disparity does not stop there. Reports have also found that “women who were operated on by a male surgeon had a 32% higher risk of death than those whose surgery had been performed by a woman. For example, while 1.4% of women who had a cardiothoracic operation with a male surgeon died, fewer—1%—did so when a female surgeon was involved.” BIO is committed to addressing these gaps. Last year, BIO initiated their Women’s Health Initiative Task Force, aimed at fostering greater innovation in women’s health, including calling for the robust investment in foundational biomedical women’s health research and the development of healthcare products for women. In the months since its inception, the task force has gotten underway building their team and reaching out into the healthcare landscape to make their intentions known. Most notably, BIO’s task force co-chair, Sheila Mikhail (a biopharmaceutical leader with over 25 years of leadership experience as an entrepreneur and advocate for equitable access to healthcare, as well as a philanthropist), spoke at the National Academies Assessment of NIH Research on Women’s Health on March 7. Her comments not only spoke to how BIO and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) share a common goal when it comes to improving the health standards of women, but also how the limits of women’s healthcare have affected her personally. “I am…a poster child of the deficiencies in women’s healthcare,” she said. “I am a lupus patient. I have suffered from the effects of endometriosis. And, most recently, I was diagnosed with a later stage breast cancer where tomosynthesis repeatedly missed two tumors in my dense breast tissue.” “Innovation in biotechnology and the development of new medicines is built on a foundation of discovery science, and the NIH is the world leader in supporting that science,” continued Mikhail. “For us to improve the health of women in the United States and across the world, it is critical that NIH supports research taking advantage of the scientific opportunities that advance our understanding of the biological underpinnings of women’s health. This understanding will further enable the discovery of preventive measures and treatments to alleviate suffering in women.” But Mikhail noted that even as steps have been made in the past, there is still much more to do, and it is the responsibility of healthcare leaders everywhere to step up. BIO, for its part, is ready to rise to the challenge. “​​BIO is committed to advancing a public policy landscape where innovations addressing women’s health can flourish,” she said. “Despite NIH investments in women’s health research, there remain major knowledge gaps in our scientific understanding, and the impact on women is real. These gaps may be because NIH funding directed to women’s health research is not enough. In part due to this knowledge gap, venture capitalists are limiting their investment in women’s health—it is less than 1% of all VC investment in U.S. biopharma. This lack of investment severely inhibits the ability of the biotech sector to develop products for women. It also limits the pursuit of drug label expansion studies to better inform the treatment of diseases in women. Of the over 7,000 drug development programs currently in the clinical pipeline, a mere handful are targeted at serious diseases such as endometriosis or autoimmune conditions.” Specifically, Mikhail mentioned the Women’s Health Innovation Opportunity Map, an initiative that BIO was helped develop in 2023 with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the NIH. As Bio.News reported in October 2023, the opportunity map “includes a number of metrics when evaluating the unmet needs in women’s health, including: Female-specific health conditions Conditions that affect women disproportionately Conditions that affect women differently Conditions that are under-studied or under-resourced for women More specifically, the map includes in its definition of women: female assigned at birth, transgender, and non-binary people. This, in turn, opens up historically untapped areas of research, such as how diseases or conditions might affect the transgendered community differently across the spectrum of transition, as well as how women of different chromosomal variations of their sex might experience different diseases and react to different forms of treatment.” With the Women’s Health Opportunity Map, the White House memorandum, and BIO’s creation of their Women’s Health Task Force, the momentum for change is strong. “We already know many of the actions we can take as a society,” said Mikhail. “To ensure that women are not disadvantaged in their pursuit of healthy lives, it is paramount to ensure that foundational research incorporates considerations of the effects of sex and gender on health and disease, and that publicly funded research explores the diseases affecting women. When a woman gets sick, the impact is felt beyond her to include her family, her community, and her workplace. This research is not only essential for the health of women, but also for the health of the economy.”