Through our Women’s Health Initiative at BII, we aim to strengthen the European ecosystem for innovative translational research and start-ups that address the high medical unmet needs within women’s health. We asked Henriette Svarre Nielsen, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology and an expert in reproduction and recurrent pregnancy loss, why it is vital to support innovation and translational research in this area.
What are the main reasons that it is crucial to focus on women’s health?
Currently, we are missing so many opportunities to improve the lives of half of the world’s population. There are minimal diagnostics and treatments for female and reproductive diseases such as endometriosis (~10% of women), vaginal dysbiosis (~16% of women), pregnancy loss (~25% of pregnancies), preeclampsia (~2% of pregnancies), preterm birth (~5-10% of pregnancies) and other obstetric complications and menopause affecting all women with different impact of impaired sleep, mood changes, hot flashes and weight gain.
How come women’s health has been neglected to this extent?
From a historical perspective, women have been heavily underrepresented in clinical trials due to two different arguments.
Firstly, to protect women and their children from the harmful effects of interventions. Secondly, men are much easier to investigate since their hormones are more stable, they do not menstruate, and they are not pregnant or breastfeeding.
What are the main obstacles in promoting women’s health and accelerating innovation in the field?
For many years sufficient funds haven’t been allocated to study these well-known issues related to women’s health and reproduction since they are not deemed as “real” diseases but just a natural part of a female’s life. Catching up with this decade-long downgrading costs a lot of money and a willingness to spend money on accelerating science and innovation in the field.
How do you observe the current ecosystem in women’s health? What are the existing strengths and weaknesses?
There are some positive ongoing developments, and the interest and willingness to invest in women’s health are growing. One of the advantages of investing in this field is that the area is not very crowded, and the unmet needs are visible.
The me-too wave also sparked momentum for women to address traditionally tabooed areas like concurrent pregnancy loss to raise more awareness around women’s health and reproduction.
Nevertheless, the research is still lacking seriously behind other areas making it difficult to attract funding from investors and funding institutions since many projects are often seen as too risky and early-stage.
Women’s Health is a rather broad term. Where do you see the most potential for a foundation like BII to make a real difference with local and international stakeholders?
It is a broad term but focusing on having a relatively overall perspective in the initial phases is essential. I see the most potential in the areas with almost no commercial interest since the potential gain is so significant. The market is not already crowded, but those unmet needs that are not addressed affect a substantial proportion of the population.
One thing is to talk about women’s health in a ‘Western context’. But what are the main challenges in low and middle-income countries?
Almost 300,000 pregnant women die yearly; more than 90% of these deaths could have been prevented if the birth attendants had the proper knowledge and skills. Therefore, educating the staff is the main challenge, in my opinion.
What do you hope BII can achieve through the Women’s Health initiative?
I hope and strongly trust that BII will create the basis for several successful companies in women’s health.