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PhRMA: Progress in Rx for diseases mainly affecting women
May 12th, 2011
WASHINGTON – A new report from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) shows that medical researchers are big strides in understanding why women suffer disproportionately from various diseases.
PhRMA said that insights from the report, announced Thursday, are aiding the development of medicines for diseases such as osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, depression, rheumatoid arthritis and age-related macular degeneration — all of which affect more women than men.
At present, 851 medicines are in development for diseases that exclusively or disproportionately affect women, according to the PhRMA report. That includes 139 medications for cancers that affect women and 110 for autoimmune diseases, which strike women three times more often than men. The medicines are in human clinical trials or are awaiting review by the Food and Drug Administration.
"As recently as a couple decades ago, there was a basic assumption that what was good medically for men was good for women in almost every case," PhRMA president and chief executive officer John Castellani said in a statement. "Today, our increasing knowledge of the less obvious differences between men and women is providing great promise for new and better treatments that will benefit both sexes."
About 90% of Americans suffering from lupus, migraines and fibromyalgia are women. And not only are women more prone to certain diseases, but also the symptoms they present may be different. Men having heart attacks, for example, typically report chest pain that radiates down the arm, while women may instead feel indigestion, extreme fatigue and nausea.
Researchers developing medicines for women also must take into account the possible differences in the ways men and women metabolize certain substances. For instance, PhRMA said, researchers have found that women metabolize nicotine more quickly than men, so a lower-dose nicotine patch for smoking cessation may not be as effective for women as a similar dose for men.
Some of the most promising work is in the area of autoimmune diseases, which involve the body’s immune system attacking some part of the body that it mistakenly perceives as foreign. About 23.5 million Americans, primarily women, suffer from an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. A better understanding of how women react differently to stress than men is helping researchers understand how to approach treatments for autoimmune diseases and psychiatric illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Women's bodies, for example, react to stress by producing higher levels of cytokines, which are cells secreted by the nervous system, said Lorraine Fitzpatrick, M.D., medicine development leader for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Progress in understanding and treating autoimmune diseases represents "one of the great strides made recently for women's health," she noted.
And in autoimmune disease research, big progress is being made in the study of multiple sclerosis, which is two to three times more prevalent among women than men, according to Anita Burrell, head of the Distinct Product Unit Multiple Sclerosis at sanofi-aventis. Currently, 38 medicines are in development for multiple sclerosis. She predicted that a number of new treatments with much better outcomes will be on pharmacy shelves within this decade.
"We are on the edge of a whole new wave of therapies," Burrell stated. "We should see remission in our lifetimes, and with the current speed of innovation, long-standing remission within our children's lifetimes."
There's also key progress being made in better potential treatments for osteoporosis, PhRMA reported. Biopharmaceutical research companies now have 22 medicines in development for preventing or treating the disease and its symptoms. The disease, which makes bones prone to fractures, affects about 8 million U.S. women and 2 million American men.
"Research in the past two decades has provided quite a few good medicines, but there is a great deal of room for improvement," commented Fitzpatrick. "The wave of the future is not simply to prevent bone erosion, but to build bone.
"For women's health generally, great strides have been made recently. It's a very exciting time for women's health," she added.