Women’s health is “shortfall” because of male-dominated investments

An executive at a pharmaceutical company that focuses on women’s health said the sector is chronically undervalued because the investing world is male-dominated.

Susanne Fielder, chief commercial officer of Merck spin-off Organon, said investors often assume that women’s specific health needs are limited to reproductive health, while common autoimmune and heart diseases may hit women much harder or differently .

Investing is still “a bit of a man thing,” she told the Financial Times. “I think the fact that most of them are men doesn’t always help. . . We can’t expect people to understand what we mean because they really think it’s niche,” she said.

“Most people define [women’s health] very narrow, and forget the fact that 50 percent of our population is women with very specific needs and gaps and we face inequality in health care.”

For decades after the thalidomide scandal, women were excluded from clinical trials if they were pregnant. In 1993, the US Congress passed legislation mandating their inclusion to ensure drugs are tested for their suitability for the entire population.

But both science funding agencies and venture capitalists have underinvested in women’s health. Organon is the first pharmaceutical company of any significant size to focus on this space.

The lack of attention to women’s health means there is little innovation in treating unwanted pregnancies and problems that can be very debilitating, such as endometriosis – which causes severe menstrual pain – and menopause symptoms.

All three conditions can affect a woman’s ability to participate in the labor market. The US campaign Women’s Health Matters estimates that a $300 million investment in women’s health research could yield $13 billion in reduced healthcare costs and improved productivity.

Fielder said it was a no-brainer for governments to invest in women’s health because of the “positive economic impact”, citing the UK’s NHS women’s health strategy and the French government’s endometriosis strategy.

In the UK, increasing awareness of hormone replacement therapy to relieve menopausal symptoms has led to increased demand in recent years. Organon has expanded its production of HRT treatments.

Organon’s shares are down 11 percent since it began trading separately from Merck, known outside the US as MSD, in 2021. In addition to its focus on women’s health, Organon houses MSD’s legacy drugs and develops new generic versions of biologics known as biosimilars.

Since the spin-off, Organon has closed several deals to fill its pipeline with treatments, including a potential drug for early-stage endometriosis, a device used in a hysterectomy, and biosimilars for breast cancer and osteoporosis, of which far more women than men are affected.

Early-stage investors are beginning to see opportunities in women’s health, particularly digital innovations such as fertility monitoring devices. Funding increased more than 10-fold from $124 million in 2017 to $1.4 billion in 2022, according to Rock Health.

Jessica Federer, chief executive of Supernode Ventures, which is raising a $50 million fund to invest in women’s health technology, said Organon’s dealmaking in the sector should set an example for investors.

“Every person on the planet is the product of women’s health,” she said. “Waiting for male investors to invest in women’s health clearly hasn’t worked.”

https://www.ft.com/content/3fcad17f-4395-4a3e-a114-9eec1b167e32 Women’s health is “shortfall” because of male-dominated investments

Adam Bradshaw

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