Improve women’s health by treating the disease, not the pain

Millions of women suffer from chronic, painful conditions that lack sufficient treatment options

Guest ContributorMay 17, 2018

Improve women’s health by treating the disease, not the pain.

amiller-150x150 (002)Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing our industry and the health care system are critical to addressing some of today’s challenges and opportunities. The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors, including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others, to share their perspectives and point of view. Views represented here may not be those of PhRMA, though they are no less key to a healthy dialogue on issues in health care today.

We are pleased to share a blog post from Amy M. Miller, PhD, President and CEO, Society for Women’s Health Research.

Millions of women suffer from chronic, painful conditions that lack sufficient treatment options. These pain conditions place a heavy burden on women and, by extension, families and society as a whole. The ability to bring safe and effective treatments out of research labs and into women’s lives is paramount.

As such, the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) recently expanded its scientific and policy work to focus on painful conditions that disproportionately or exclusively affect women, such as migraine and endometriosis.

We are just beginning to understand the ways that women and men experience pain differently. For instance, chronic pain is more prevalent in women than men worldwide, but women are less likely to receive appropriate treatment. Women also report more severe, frequent and long-lasting pain than men.

Many of the painful conditions that are more common in women have no direct treatments because the underlying cause of the disorder is unknown. This needs to change: We need to find and treat the cause of the disease, not just the pain.

Recent innovations in migraine are great examples of where research needs to go. Unlike current migraine treatments, most of which were originally designed for other conditions such as epilepsy and hypertension, the new class of therapies — calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors — are designed specifically to prevent migraine.

As these treatments enter the market, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) is simultaneously assessing the effectiveness and value of CGRP inhibitors. SWHR submitted a comment letter expressing concerns around aspects of ICER’s approach and urged ICER to account for sex and gender differences as well as patients’ unique experience, disease burden and impact on society. As we assess the effectiveness of these preventive treatments, it is important to recognize that no single number or price can fully reflect their value to the diverse patient population impacted by migraines.

  • Migraine is three times more common in women than men.
  • Women are more likely than men to experience longer and more intense migraines.
  • Women report more migraine-associated symptoms and comorbid conditions.
  • Women have higher levels of migraine-related disability.
  • Women account for 80 percent of direct and indirect costs associated with migraine in the United States, which are upwards of $78 billion each year.

By preventing migraine with appropriate treatments, we can markedly improve the health and quality of life for many women and thus reduce the burden of migraine on individuals, families and employers. Patients for whom current treatment options don’t work need and deserve access to this new class of preventive treatment options for migraine, which will help us correct suboptimal care for many women.

Amy M. Miller, PhD, is president and CEO for the Society for Women’s Health Research. SWHR is a national nonprofit dedicated to promoting research on biological differences in disease and improving women’s health through science, advocacy and education.

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