While women make up half of the world’s population, diseases do not affect men and women equally. Certain cancers such as ovarian and cervical cancer can only affect women, but various other diseases disproportionately affect women. For example, 90% of people suffering from lupus are female, as are 90% of the 3–6 million fibromyalgia sufferers. For certain other diseases, the male-female differences are not as dramatic, but still pronounced. For example, the number of female rheumatoid-arthritis patients is 2.5 times as much as the number of male rheumatoid-arthritis patients, and women are two to three times more likely than men to suffer from multiple sclerosis. Almost two-thirds of all Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women.
Drug developers have not ignored these numbers. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) reports that America’s pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies are developing 851 medicines for diseases that disproportionately affect American women. The report indicates that 139 medicines for cancers affecting women are in development, and cancer is the second leading cause of death among women. About 84 medicines for Alzheimer’s disease are in development. There are 114 medicines in development for musculoskeletal diseases, which affect 46 million Americans, 60% of whom are women. Respiratory disorders such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are well represented, with 168 compounds in development. According to the American Lung Association, COPD has killed more women than men during the past seven years. Other areas with significant development are obstetric and gynecological conditions (64 compounds), anxiety and depression (72 compounds), and autoimmune disease (110 compounds).
In a press release, PhRMA President and CEO John J. Castellani states: “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. 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.”