After three decades in the clinic and academia, Kelle Moley decided she wanted to make an even more significant impact on women’s health. Today, she is the Global VP of Clinical and Translational R&D, Reproductive Medicine, and Maternal Health at Ferring Pharmaceuticals.
Her role consists of three main focus areas; she leads a team of in-house researchers, seeks out external innovations in women’s health, and raises awareness about the need for more investments not only in high-income countries.
As part of this, she has joined BII’s Women’s Health Innovation Panel as an industry representative on behalf of Ferring Pharmaceuticals. In April 2023, Ferring Pharmaceuticals and BII joined forces in a strategic partnership.
We had a talk with Kelle Moley about her work.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the industry after many years in academia?
I spent almost 30 years of my career at Washington University School of Medicine, among the top 5 medical schools in the US. I ran a research lab focusing on embryo development, uterine receptivity, male and female infertility, and epigenetic inheritance, and my work was continuously funded by the NIH.
At the same time, I was also working in the clinic as a gynecologist and infertility physician, and I had an incredible career. I was, however, frustrated by the fact that drug treatment options in women’s health aren’t very effective. None of them have been developed to treat women’s diseases, but they are used for it because there aren’t better options on the market.
I wanted to make a more significant impact through my research, which grew increasingly crucial during my career. I tried to understand the levers and forces that control investments in women’s health research, and it led me to various positions before I found my place here at Ferring Pharmaceuticals as Global VP of clinical and translational R&D.
On my way here, I realized the big divide between a discovery and a commercially profitable drug and saw that my talents are best suited to closing this gap in women’s health products. I have learned that big and medium-sized pharma like Ferring and philanthropy like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are the only ones able to invest in women’s health and drive much-needed change.
How is women’s health perceived in academia and the clinic?
From my time at Washington University School of Medicine, it was clear that the work of physicians in women’s health is considered less important than the work of general surgeons, pediatricians, and many others. In that sense, obstetrician-gynecologists are often considered just birth attendants caring for healthy pregnant women. However, pregnancy and delivery are not without complications, many life-threatening requiring immediate medical attention. I sometimes had to fight to get a woman with severe post-partum complications to the operating room ahead of a patient with a very stable case of appendicitis because she was considered “healthy.”
Why do you think that is the perception?
It goes back to a deprioritization of women’s health. Until the mid-90s, women were not represented in clinical trials and are still not equally represented. That means all drugs developed between the 1950s – 1990s were only tested in men. Still, women aren’t just little men, which has much to do with estrogen and gender differences in physiology which are still greatly understudied.
There’s also a perception that the women’s disease market is not profitable, but the fact is that women take 70 percent of all prescribed drugs. Women are the Chief Medical Officers in family households. They make all the decisions around the family’s health, so it blows my mind that we haven’t seen a turn in investments by now. If the motivation is money-making, the opportunity is there.
What were the strategic partnership’s first steps between BII and Ferring?
We started talking about a year ago, and the strategic partnership was formalized in April. I knew BII from my time at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so it was already clear that at Ferring, we have the same interests and ideas on how to move forward and promote women’s health through innovation and technology.
We’ve set up a steering committee and an operational committee for the partnership, and we have started getting to know each other better to identify synergies. We are planning joint events and looking into how we can help start-ups and projects in BII’s programs. Ferring understands the US market and its payer platform, which differs significantly from Europe. Thus, we can contribute with the know-how to start-ups that want to target the US market.
I am very excited about this partnership and my Women’s Health Innovation Panel role. I am impressed by how many companies BII has attracted from Europe and the rest of the world.