A Turning Point For Research And Care

The creation of the bipartisan Women’s Health PAC signifies a critical juncture in the movement to elevate women’s health on the national political stage. Historically, this field has been underfunded and stigmatized, leading to significant knowledge gaps and disparities in healthcare. However, the landscape is changing positively with increased government funding, targeted initiatives, and a growing interest from venture capitalists.

Despite this progress, significant challenges persist. The PAC’s mission is to solidify women’s health as a national priority, ensuring adequate funding for every stage in the development of treatments. This momentum, fueled by recent government actions and heightened venture capital involvement, promises to drive substantial progress in women’s health research and outcomes.

The ultimate goal is to achieve comprehensive health care that addresses the unique needs of all women while unlocking a potential $1 trillion annual economic opportunity.

Women’s Health PAC Fights For Parity In Funding

A group of women’s health leaders recently launched the first-ever bipartisan Women’s Health PAC, dedicated to making women’s health a sustained national political priority. Candace McDonald, Jodi Neuhauser, and Liz Powell co-founded the group.

Early-stage women’s health research is risky but can be rewarding. Government funding bridges the gap, allowing researchers to explore promising yet uncertain avenues with high breakthrough potential. Investors often demand preliminary data before funding, creating a catch-22.

While women represent more than half the population, the National Institute of Health allocated only $4,466 million—10.8%—of its budget to women’s health research. Historically underfunded, women’s health research suffers from knowledge gaps and healthcare disparities. U.S. government funding must target neglected areas, ensuring that research addresses the health needs of all populations, including marginalized and underserved groups.

Most funding decision-makers are men. By and large, they need to become more familiar with women’s health challenges. “I spend a lot of time explaining things, which is very challenging,” said Elizabeth Garner, OB/GYN and Gynecologic Oncologist. Seventeen years ago, she left clinical medicine and entered the pharmaceutical industry. She is currently the chief scientific officer at Ferring Pharmaceuticals. “We need more education!”

Stigma shrouds women’s health, from menstruation and menopause that only affect women to diseases that are more likely to affect women, such as autoimmune disorders and Alzheimer’s, and to diseases like cardiovascular that affect women differently than men. The taboos surrounding women’s health discourage open dialogue, making these issues seem less important and hindering research funding.

Another issue: Joanna Strober, CEO and founder of Midi Health, points out that estrogen is connected to the prevention of Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and osteopenia. The company provides virtual care to women 35 to 65. Due to its status as a generic drug, estrogen offers less financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to investigate its potential benefits for these diseases. Testosterone plays a role in women’s bone health, libido, and brain health. It, too, is a generic drug with lower profit margins than patented drugs. There is no research investigating how estrogen and testosterone can be used to improve women’s health as they age.

Government grants act as seed money, enabling researchers to gather crucial data, develop prototypes, and demonstrate proof of concept, paving the way for later-stage private and philanthropic investment.

Women are underrepresented in all stages of the product development continuum, including R&D, data collection, clinical trials, founding companies, and being VCs. The result is that diseases impacting women receive less federal research funding than those affecting men.

The Women’s Health PAC will ensure politicians remain focused on women’s health by race and ethnicity. It will organize grassroots events, spearhead awareness marketing campaigns, provide financial support to bipartisan candidates supporting women’s health, leverage political and financial influence, and continuously focus on women’s health.

Closing Women’s Health Gap Creates $1 Trillion Opportunity

Momentum is building to address women’s health research disparity. The Biden administration has launched several initiatives to accelerate growth:

  • The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) Sprint for Women’s Health was announced on February 21, 2024. This initiative commits $100 million to transformative research and development in women’s health.
  • Twenty new actions and commitments by federal agencies were announced on March 18, 2024. The agencies included the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Science Foundation. Notably, this includes the launch of a new NIH-wide initiative that will allocate $200 million in fiscal year 2025 for interdisciplinary women’s health research.
  • This effort is a foundational step towards the transformative central $12 billion Fund on Women’s Health, which the President urged Congress to invest in.

On May 9, 2024, seventeen bipartisan senators and Halle Berry announced the Advancing Menopause Care and Mid-Life Women’s Health Act, a $275 million bill to boost federal research, physician training, and public awareness about menopause.

Recognition of women’s unique healthcare needs and the potential for innovation in this space are growing. Reports showing the opportunity have fueled the push for more inclusive healthcare.

  • Investing $300 million in women’s health research could yield a $13 billion economic return—43 fold increase. (Women’s Health Access Matters conducted by the RAND Corporation)
  • Women globally spend significantly more of their lives in poor health compared to men. Closing this gap could improve millions of women’s lives and unlock a massive economic opportunity of $1 trillion annually by 2040. (McKinsey)
  • There was a 314% increase in VC investment in women’s health since 2018. Innovation in Women’s Health 2023 is optimistic that the sector is poised for significantly more growth because of the growing recognition of women’s unique healthcare needs and the potential for innovation in this space (PitchBook and SVB). No matter what health condition a company is focused on, Christina K. Isacson, Ph.D., partner at Lightstone Ventures, a VC firm that invests in medical breakthroughs, asks founders how they include gender in preclinical and clinical work, and product profiles. The report notes that over 76% of VC-backed women’s health companies have at least one female co-founder, a significantly higher proportion than other sectors. Female-founded companies tend to be undervalued and represent an opportunity for superior returns. Significant successes by women’s health companies have demonstrated the sector’s investment potential. Midi Health, a virtual company focused on women 35 to 65, has raised $100 million. Raising the first and second rounds was difficult, commented Strober. The company relied on funding from small women-owned venture funds. The third round of funding came from larger VCs, but the lead investors were women.
  • A PitchBook analysis of femtech—defined as a range of health software and tech-enabled products that cater to female biological needs and a subsector of women’s health—reveals spectacular growth for female-founded companies. From 2013 to 2023, funding grew:
  1. 5829% to $450 million for solely female-founded companies.
  2. 2633% to $713.8 million for companies with at least one female founder.
  3. 114% to $124.6 million for solely male-founded companies.

“I encourage male founders to be open-minded to the opportunities that gender-based medicine presents,” said Isacson.

Launching the bipartisan Women’s Health PAC marks a pivotal moment in the fight to prioritize women’s health in national political discourse. Despite historical underfunding and a persistent stigma, the landscape for women’s health research is transforming. More government money, focused research efforts, and a rise in investor enthusiasm suggest exciting medical breakthroughs are on the horizon. Recognizing the economic benefits and dismantling the barriers to inclusive research pave the way for a future where all women can access healthcare that addresses their unique needs.