By Dr. Sandra Milligan, Head of Research and Development, Organon
Global healthcare leaders will unite virtually for the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference to preview the latest health advances. Every year, I take note of the limited participation from women, and the equally limited focus on the health of women. It’s time for women’s health to own a bigger portion of this discussion and it will require an intentional ecosystem-wide effort to drive much needed change for every woman everywhere.
Women and underserved populations are far from being niche markets and together make up the majority of healthcare patients. Comprising roughly half the people in the world, women have distinct health needs, and it’s time that healthcare and industry leaders take a more active role in the science and advocacy needed to advance women’s health.
In order to bring meaningful change to the health and lives of women, we must address the unacceptable facts about the staggering disease burden borne by women globally. Consider that:
- Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) is one of the most common complications of birth. In the United States, PPH is on the rise.
- 1 in 10 pre-menopausal women have endometriosis, which means it is just as common as diabetes in women. However, 60% of cases remain undiagnosed and treatment options are limited.
- 12 million women around the world have experienced disruptions in their family planning services due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to 1.4 million unintended pregnancies.
It’s clear that innovation is needed, but we must strive for an even higher goal — to accelerate innovation in both diagnosis and treatment, as well as treatment choice and access, so much-needed options can be brought to all women, faster.
No single company, organization, or government can do this alone. To mount the meaningful and sustainable change needed, we need ecosystem-wide collaboration.
This must be a cross disciplinary, global effort that harnesses resources and expertise globally to foster and drive innovation among academics, companies, healthcare venture capital firms, foundations, agencies, and of course women themselves.
Today, research science is evolving and there is new excitement in available pipeline candidates and other products that have the potential to address areas of significant unmet needs.
Three recent deals from my company, Organon — a new global healthcare company focused on women’s health — underline this point. These deals were focused on the areas of PPH, pre-term labor, and endometriosis — all are areas which are very much underserved. And we won’t stop there.
We need to leverage the impacts of financial and regulatory “push and pull” engagement in order to accelerate innovation and provide choice women want and access women need. The reality is, we have multiple options for contraception, but why don’t we have more choices for endometriosis or fibroids? There is viable market demand, but to complement it, the “pull” of regulatory policy adjustments and other initiatives can lower the barriers and lessen time investments to help further incentivize private sector innovation in these and other disease states. The “push” of funding policies that reduce research and development costs, incubate innovation, and encourage companies and others to step forward to greatly expand choice can also help facilitate companies’ entry into this sector. Imagine how much we could accomplish if we dedicate these policies to harness even a small amount of overall health investment for women’s health?
Finally, access is the critical lynchpin between innovation and meeting women’s health needs. Contraception, for example, isn’t just about finding new methods; it’s about scaling existing options to improve access. Public-private collaborations may help identify regional family planning access shortfalls and scaling to meet that need. Importantly, there are many new disease areas that must be tackled beyond reproductive health.
Rising to these challenges will require scientific and societal momentum; we must bring together:
- Innovators in drug, device, and technology research, especially academics and small start-ups.
- Larger life sciences companies with manufacturing, distribution infrastructure, and drug development resources to scale-up effort and create expanded opportunities for access, worldwide.
- Investors, critical to fueling the innovation engine that accelerates choice for women.
- Regulatory authorities and governments; engaging them with clinical trial data can accelerate approvals for urgently needed drugs, devices, diagnostics, and other modalities of care.
- Non-profits and foundations, which have the ability to work with governments globally to identify pressing need, coordinate effort, and help direct treatments where they are most needed.
Scaling up research in women’s health will require a concerted, ecosystem-wide effort to ensure that innovation, choice, and access are available for women, everywhere. It’s daunting, but this movement is a relay race in which different companies, different innovators, different organizations, all have a baton to carry. By running our parts of the race, working together across disciplines, industries, regions, and nations, we can revolutionize women’s health and begin to make a real difference in the lives of women everywhere.
About The Author:
As the head of research and development for Organon, Dr. Sandra Milligan is leading the advancement of medicines and solutions to help women and all patients live a better and healthier every day. In her role, Dr. Milligan oversees Organon’s scientific, medical and regulatory capabilities in support of its diverse portfolio and long-term vision. She encourages women and their providers to share what areas of women’s healthcare they believe are overlooked at hereforherhealth.com.