If you weren’t aware of it before, it’s impossible to not recognise it now. I am, of course, talking about the Gender Health Gap.
So, a bit of background… The Gender Health Gap is a term that was coined together to describe the disparity in health outcomes and treatment between men and women. Historically, men have been treated as the default patient in clinical practice and medical research. As a result, women’s health and healthcare needs have been marginalised.
I’m sure you’ll agree that the concept seems wildly archaic, but even now, in 2022, women continue to receive inferior healthcare and experience poorer health outcomes than their male peers. A fact that has only been emphasised by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Supreme Court’s ruling to effectively end the constitutional right to safe and legal abortions has sent shockwaves around the globe, leaving many women wondering if their autonomy over their own bodies will land the same fate as their American counterparts. As a woman-led company focused on Life Sciences with a 53% female workforce, like many of you, it’s taken us a while to digest this devastating news.
But what exactly does this mean for the pharmaceutical industry?
Expectedly, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, there has been a huge surge in demand for contraceptives, particularly emergency contraception. In fact, online reproductive and sexual health provider, Wisp, has reported an enormous 3000% increase in sales of emergency contraceptive pills following the Supreme Court’s ruling. Fortunately, they have so far been able to keep up with the rise in demand.
Elsewhere in the U.S., pharmacies have begun taking precautionary measures to avert a shortage of emergency contraceptives, with both CVS and Rite Aid restricting customers to three boxes per transaction.
For online retailers, the surge in demand has been trickier to keep up with due to limited supply. Amazon has instilled a system whereby customers are restricted to purchasing the emergency contraceptive pill, Plan B, three times per week maximum. Even then, expected delivery times are currently a 10-day wait, even though the pill must be ingested within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Could this surge in demand help accelerate the development of male birth control pills?
Ever since the pill became widely available in the 60s, development in the female contraceptives market has been painfully slow. In fact, The Gates Foundation found that only 2% of drug companies' profits are returned to research and development, despite an estimated 900% ROI on birth control.
What’s more, up until recently, very little was known about how hormonal contraception affects the non-reproductive systems of the female body because shockingly, research on these systems has been done exclusively on male subjects!
As women continue to learn more about the effects of the hormonal pill on their bodies, more and more are opting out of the pill as a form of contraception. In 2018, 26% of millennial women reported that they had either considered giving up the pill or had stopped taking it because they were worried about consuming synthetic hormones.
With more in-depth research on the pill continuously becoming more accessible, along with the Supreme Court removing the constitutional right to a safe abortion, there’s never been a more urgent or necessary time for medical professionals to look at other birth control options. Enter the male contraceptive pill.
Although research on female contraceptives is dragging, just back in April this year, it was reported that a 99% effective male contraceptive pill with no observable side effects might become available following a successful trial on mice at the University of Minnesota.
It was initially reported that the non-hormonal male pill could begin human trials as soon as later this year, offering additional options for birth control and reproductive autonomy for men. Taking the recent fall of Roe v. Wade into consideration, this could help speed up the development of the male birth control pill by providing a more probing incentive for research funding agencies, investors, and pharmaceutical companies to supply more money in helping drive forward the time it will take to bring the male pill to market.
I know what you're thinking: Why has the elimination of side effects been prioritised in men when those very side effects are still yet to be addressed for women? To put it simply, a woman's makeup is much more complex to study due to their unpredictable physiology. Throughout a woman's menstrual cycle, her levels of progesterone and oestrogen fluctuate, which has often meant that studies are conducted in the early follicular stage and therefore do not provide a true or reliable outcome of the pill’s side effects at different stages of a woman's cycle.
Needless to say, women without a doubt need more representation in clinical trials in order to shrink the Gender Health Gap. We only hope that the results of the male contraceptive pill will encourage more pharmaceutical companies to look at developing less invasive, non-hormonal birth control options for women too.
Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, many have expressed their frustration and rage protesting that we’re revisiting a time gone by, but as many of you will agree, this is not quite the case for the pharmaceutical industry. The ruling marks a new era for healthcare and the beginning of a very different landscape for Life Sciences.
While it’s too early to fully grasp what ripple effects the Supreme Court’s decision will have on emergency contraception, birth control, and reproductive rights, we shouldn’t let ourselves get too comfortable with the increased demand for emergency contraceptives. Since some lawmakers believe life begins at the moment of fertilisation, this could be just the tip of the iceberg, and so we should continue in our quest of closing the Gender Health Gap and providing viable birth control solutions for all.