Health Decisions CEO, Patrick Phillips, BSc (Hons), D.Phil., attended BIO 2018 in Boston to meet with companies active in development of new therapeutic and diagnostic products to improve healthcare outcomes for women. After the conference, Dr. Phillips offered observations on a variety of trends in evidence at the conference and on Boston as a conference setting with significant current development activity in women’s health and a rich history as well. The primary focus of Dr. Phillips’ observations was investment in development of new therapeutics and diagnostics for women’s health conditions and associated challenges for developers.
The Need for Increased Investment in Development of Women’s Health Products
Dr. Phillips: I was delighted to see that companies that focus on women’s health were well represented at BIO 2018. However, it is clear that capturing sufficient funding to move women’s health assets forward can be a significant challenge for these companies. The need is clearly there, but the funding situation for assets that can improve healthcare outcomes for women needs more visibility across key stakeholder groups that can change the current paradigm. These groups include VCs, advocacy groups, product developers and those that support the development process, including CROs. Women consume 24% more healthcare services than men, yet funding in areas where the demographic of the disease is heavily weighted towards females does not always reflect that. Innovative medicines of value are not being developed at the rate we would expect given women’s unmet medical needs and the associated market opportunities.
Variation in Funding by Area within Women’s Health
Dr. Phillips: I think the mainstream areas within women’s health, such as breast, ovarian and cervical cancer, multiple sclerosis, contraception and core OB/GYN indications are for the most part well-funded and well represented. However, there are six core areas that affect a significant portion of the female population that are not well represented with respect to the number of innovative assets in development. These include assets for female sexual dysfunction, osteoporosis, endometriosis, reproductive psychiatry (including postpartum depression) and heavy menstrual bleeding. Another area that is not represented as well as it should be in product pipelines is non-invasive diagnostics that can better support early disease detection across a range of women’s health indications. I think in general these areas are underfunded due to the significant competition that exists for drug development funding, aligned with perceived market opportunity. For whatever reason, industry perception of market opportunities in women’s health tends to be on the low side by comparison with an objective market analysis. This must change.
Boston as a BIO Venue and Center of Women’s Health Advocacy and Research
Dr. Phillips: Boston was an excellent location for BIO. From our perspective as a specialty CRO focused on women’s health, holding BIO in Boston was good because Boston has played and continues to play a prominent role in women’s health in more ways than one. First, Boston has leading women’s health institutions, including Mass General and Brigham and Women’s. Then there is the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, which generated a book called “Our Bodies, Ourselves” that led to women taking a more proactive role in their own healthcare. That book was not an isolated incident. For example, in 2014 the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital published Sex-Specific Medical Research: Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait. The Connors Report makes a powerful case for increased research in women’s health, in part because women sometimes respond to medicines differently than men. The Boston area also has substantial activity in development of women’s health products. In the Boston and surrounding area alone, there are over 30 companies that are involved in the development of new interventional or diagnostic assets that could improve healthcare outcomes across a range of different therapeutic indications in women’s health. For all these reasons, we considered Boston an excellent venue for BIO 2018. The main change we would like to see at BIO 2019 in Philadelphia is evidence of increased funding activity around development of women’s health products. Women have more than their fair share of significant unmet medical needs and so it is important that those needs get a fair share of development funding.