Benefits of Diversity in Biotech and Pharmaceuticals

It is easy to start heading down the road of racial politics as soon as someone mentions diversity in the workplace. The unfortunate reality is that racial politics has hurt the cause of diversity in America more than it has helped. But that does not change the fact that workplace diversity offers a broad range of benefits that are good for us all. This principle is clearly seen in the arena of biotech and pharmaceuticals.


At its core, diversity is about including people of both sexes and as many ethnic, cultural, social, and religious backgrounds as humanly possible. Think of it in terms of the melting pot principle. One of the things that have contributed to the greatness of America since our country’s founding is the fact that we have been a worldwide melting pot made up of people hailing from every corner of the globe. The workplace should be no different. The scientific community should be no different.

Diversity is all about taking advantage of the fact that people are different. Those differences are an important part of what makes for a successful biotech venture in the modern world. In light of that, there are three distinct benefits to diversity in biotech and pharmaceuticals that the industry should make a concerted effort to look at more closely:

  • Diversity encourages specialization
  • Diversity promotes strategic problem-solving
  • Diversity accommodates for natural bias.

Diversity and Specialization

Diversity in any industry – be it healthcare, biotech, technology, or manufacturing – is the result of different people having different perspectives. And from those perspectives, people also develop their individual interests. Therefore, diversity within the STEM arena is one of the things that leads to specialization.

For example, a pharmaceutical researcher who grew up in South America may now be very concerned about Zika research and funding. A colleague whose family history includes ties to African countries like Liberia and Zaire may have a particular interest in working on the Ebola virus. The reality is that specialization tends to be the offspring of personal interest and experience.

Diversity and Strategic Problem Solving

In the problem-solving arena, pharma and biotech companies have a very definite need to look at problems from a variety of different angles. The whole premise of both industries is to discover and develop new ways to combat disease, and doing so requires a full investigation of every facet of the problem at hand. Diversity lends itself very well to this exercise.

People from different backgrounds view problems differently. Because of that, they look for solutions based on their own perspectives. A diverse workplace encourages strategic problem solving in a way that takes into account as many perspectives and viewpoints as possible. In turn, this creates the potential for finding the best possible solution for even the most complex problem.

Diversity and Natural Bias

Despite the fact that pharmaceuticals and biotech are science-based at their core, there is no escaping the fact that human beings have a natural tendency toward bias in everything we do. This natural bias is simply the result of individual perspective. The problem that arises in an environment where there is no diversity is one of allowing dominant biases to control decision-making.

Bias is not necessarily a bad thing from a scientific perspective. But in order for science to reach the right conclusions, every bias must be balanced with another. Diversification addresses that.

Pharmaceuticals and biotech most certainly benefit from diversity. The more diverse we can make the biotech community, the more successful we will be solving some of the biggest problems now before us.

Better STEM Focus Will Improve Life Sciences Diversity

Government and business leaders all over the world generally agree that a better STEM focus within school systems is necessary to prepare the workers of tomorrow to contribute in an environment that is becoming more technologically advanced by the day. STEM coursework lays the foundation for pursuing career paths that require good math skills, critical thinking skills, the ability to read and write at an advanced level, and an understanding of the sciences. In light of this, it is also reasonable to say that a better STEM focus will improve diversity in the life sciences sector.

Diversity has been fleeting within life sciences to date because so many young students falsely believe such careers are beyond their reach. Unfortunately, the public education system has succeeded in dividing students into an educational ‘class system’ that causes minority students to believe their options are limited. We are slowly but surely changing that, and hopefully reaping good results.


The more we can encourage minority students to consider life sciences as a career path, the better the industry will be at addressing the needs of all demographic groups in the future. A means to that end is a better STEM focus toward minorities.

Integrated STEM Programs

Just what is the future of STEM education in the U.S.? Hopefully, it is similar to the model established by Wesley College, a minority-focused college in Dover, Delaware. They have taken the traditional STEM model and developed it further in order to provide an optimal learning environment for students interested in technical careers. The Wesley model begins with effective recruiting. According to Delaware Online, some 40% of the school’s student body are the first in their families to attend college.

Wesley has implemented a number of additional strategies that make the best use of their effective recruiting:

  • Structured Learning Experiences – The school has collaborated with various partners to create structured learning experiences tailored to the goals of students. For example, students interested in healthcare careers have been given opportunities to intern at local facilities.
  • Integrated Research – Wesley College has worked with state and federal agencies to create programs that funnel STEM students into research opportunities. Some of those students quickly find themselves captivated enough to pursue careers in life sciences research.
  • Living-Learning Communities – Rather than randomly housing students with no particular goals in mind, Wesley has developed what it calls Living-Learning Communities. These are groups of students who are housed together based on common academic pursuits and interests. This encourages students to interact and collaborate.

Wesley actively engages students throughout their educational careers through one-on-one counseling and a progressive liberal arts curriculum that evolves with students as they progress through their degree programs, rather than remaining static throughout.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of what Wesley is doing is the amount of attention they give to reading and writing. Officials at the college say that STEM is about more than just math and science. Future STEM workers need to be able to think critically and communicate effectively, two things that may not be fully developed in the realm of mathematics and scientific study. Therefore, a degree program at Wesley includes a heavy emphasis on literature and writing.

Creating a better STEM focus is the goal of a growing number of colleges and universities around the country. This is good for life sciences because it opens the door for more diversity in the future. As students from all demographic groups come to the understanding they can succeed in STEM careers, many of them will choose life sciences.


1. Delaware Online –

A Lesson in Diversity from Big Data

The concept of Big Data has come a long way since its earliest implementation in the late 1950s and 60s. Today, we have the capacity to collect and analyze volumes of data that were completely unimaginable 60 years ago. The key to maximizing all of this data is understanding how to use it effectively. In that pursuit, we can learn a lesson about diversity that is easily applicable to life sciences and pharmaceuticals.


An excellent piece recently published on TechRepublic lays the groundwork for this lesson in Big Data. Author Mary Shacklett explains that when working with Big Data, the key to getting accurate results is asking the right questions. She says that one of the reasons Big Pharma has not yet figured out how to get the most out of Big Data is that the industry is asking the wrong questions.

Let’s delve more deeply into Shacklett’s analysis in order to see how we can learn a lesson in diversity here. We will look at it from two perspectives: the current lack of diversity within life sciences and the strategies now being employed to rectify the situation.

Lessons about Lack of Diversity

Shacklett’s analysis revolves around the 2014 analysis of a healthcare website designed to give consumers information about prescription drugs. The website attempted to use Big Data as a means of gathering and analyzing information that could be presented to users in multiple languages and across different platforms. The idea was a good one, but it had one significant flaw.

Developers who created the algorithms to analyze the compiled data did not take into account the fact that different data sources utilized different terminology and ways of explaining things. For example, two sites talking about the same prescription medication in different languages described side effects in terms that could not be reconciled even when run through a translator. This resulted in valuable data being discarded because it could not be analyzed.

Likewise, the life sciences sector struggles with diversity because we are over complicating the hiring and recruiting process. We are not getting the right results because we are not asking the right questions. Furthermore, we still fail to recognize that diversity equals differences that cannot be accommodated using outdated ways of analyzing the qualifications of candidates.

Lessons about Current Strategies

According to the experts, the solution to the Big Data problem is to program algorithms to ask less complicated questions. It is to program algorithms to analyze data more broadly rather than through strict criteria that results in the disposal of so much useful data. Perhaps the same thinking applies to recruiting and hiring minorities.

For example, isn’t it common practice for human resources departments to work with department heads in order to come up with a detailed description of what a future employee looks like? Absolutely. This happens all the time. Just look at any jobs board offering life sciences opportunities. Job requirements have become so incredibly detailed that we are, by default, filtering out a tremendous number of candidates who would otherwise be excellent additions to the team.

Perhaps life sciences and Big Pharma need to stop searching for that perfect candidate and start looking more broadly at a larger pool of prospective employees. Broadening one’s perspective is the first step toward diversity anyway.

There are lessons Big Pharma and life sciences can learn from their current struggles with Big Data. Finding the right solutions to the Big Data problem will make data more useful for generations to come. Applying similar solutions to diversity will also achieve desirable results.


  • TechRepublic –

3 Keys to a Better Life Sciences Business

It is no secret that the vast majority of life-sciences startups fail within the first few years of operation. Products do not come to fruition, investor funds dry up, and employees are forced to pick up the pieces and find work with other companies. It is an ongoing cycle that has not changed in years. But do things need to continue this way?

Within the life-sciences sector, the consensus seems to be that the current cycle is just the way things are. But outside of the industry bubble, other business executives say that life-sciences can turn things around by adopting some different strategies. That makes sense. If other industries can conquer the startup and failure cycle, so can life-sciences.


Here are three keys to a better life-sciences business that is less likely to fail early on:

1. Stop the Hiring Carousel

Hiring executive management in the corporate world is eerily similar to hiring coaches in professional sports. There seems to be this small group of individuals who spend their entire lives on the hiring carousel, moving from one company to the next irrespective of whether they succeed along the way. The successful life-sciences company will get off the hiring carousel and look for fresh blood.

Think about pro football as a good example. With the exception of one or two teams with long-established coaches from the old school, the teams that are succeeding in the modern era employ coaching staffs who are younger, more diverse, and willing to embrace new ways of doing things. Life-sciences could learn a lesson here.

It’s time to look for younger and less experienced executives who, by way of their youthful inexperience, are willing to take chances and try new things. It is time to look at a broader range of diverse candidates who bring new perspectives into the boardroom and C-suite.

2. Create Integrated Diversity

As much as life-sciences is trying to embrace the idea of diversity within executive management, limited success has been the result of a substitute mentality. In other words, the goal has been to replace an outgoing member of the management team with a minority candidate in order to achieve some sort of predetermined balance. This is the wrong approach.

Diversity should be looked at through the lens of integration. In other words, rather than swapping out one team member for another, diverse executives should be brought on board to integrate with existing members of the management team. This provides the right combination of experience and fresh ideas that will help the life-sciences company move forward.

3. Develop Diversity-Friendly Policies

The life-sciences startup looking to take advantage of diversity in order to ensure future success should start from the ground up by developing appropriate policies. This does not mean policies that force diversity or integration through outdated means like quotas. It does mean creating policies that make the workplace friendly for workers of all demographics.

One example would be a generous maternity leave policy that shows women are welcome in the workplace. That policy should be equally applicable to men who want to take time off to be fathers to their newborns. Simply put, the more inviting you make your workplace to all demographics, the more diverse the resulting workforce will be.

Life-sciences does not have to continue the ongoing cycle of startup and failure. With a few adjustments in the way things are done, companies can succeed over the long haul. A good place to start is in the executive boardroom and C-suite, by making both as diverse as possible.

Big Pharma Recognizes the Need for More Diversity

A new industry survey indicates that executives within Big Pharma recognize the need to do more to encourage diversity within their ranks, particularly where hiring women executives is concerned. The survey is good news inasmuch as it sheds light on the fact that the corporate medical world has a problem they know needs to be fixed. Now the question is one of how to fix it in the most appropriate way.

The EY survey indicates that 53% of industry executives recognize that they are not utilizing women to their full potential within management teams. Yet almost three-quarters of those same executives say that greater diversity improves performance and results at all levels of business. They recognize the need to include more women; they just haven’t done so to this point. At least we have a starting point on which to move forward.


Other interesting findings from the survey include the following:

  •  82.5% of industry executives do not believe their companies are effective in retaining women
  • 73% of executives believe drastic changes are needed to attract and retain diverse talent
  • 90% of executives believe that new leaders with the right skills will be imperative to leading the industry forward
  • 80% of life sciences companies have no structured program to develop the careers of female executives
  • 87% have no formal structure to identify and develop future female executives
  • 25% of industry executives expect to see no significant changes in the current environment within the next five years.

Big Pharma is not unusual in its seemingly slow response to the need for diversity. This seems to be an ongoing struggle throughout the entire scope of the healthcare sector. For some reason, healthcare is slow to respond to major paradigm shifts while other industries seem to be able to move on a dime. Eventually, this problem will have to be addressed as well.

A Big Step Forward

Recognizing that diversity is a problem within pharmaceuticals and life sciences is a good first step. Now companies need to take that second step, and they need to make it a big one. But what to do?

One suggestion is for companies to immediately hire a female member of the senior management team whose primary responsibility is to develop policies and programs that will identify strong candidates for female leadership along with ways to help them develop their careers. This newly appointed executive could also be assigned the task of creating policies that will help the company do better at seeking out female talent, then convincing them to join the team and doing whatever is necessary to retain them long-term.

The female executive is the perfect candidate for this type of position for multiple reasons that ought to be obvious. Who better to address the needs of women in Big Pharma than female executives?

One thing Big Pharma definitely does not need is a quota system. As a general rule, diversity should reflect demographics in the broadest possible spectrum. But to tie hiring and retention to quotas is to deny the reality that sometimes the best candidate for the job is not necessarily a member of one demographic group or the other.

In the end, the point of workplace diversity is not to achieve diversity simply for its own sake. It is about producing the best possible results by engaging as many different kinds of people as possible. Diversity equals different mindsets, different approaches to solving problems, different insights, and different perspectives. Diversity equals better results by accounting for all of these important differences.


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Minority-Focused STEM Programs Prepare Students to Compete

A small number of select colleges around the country offer minority-focused STEM programs designed to prepare students for graduate programs in life sciences, pharma, and other related fields. These programs are designed around the idea that minority students fare much better in undergraduate programs that address their particular needs. Sounds rational, right? So why continue to push minority students into graduate programs at highly competitive universities where they are at an immediate disadvantage?

The New York Post recently ran an article discussing this very topic. Contributor Robert Cherry introduced the idea by reminding readers of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s belief in what is known as the ‘mismatch theory.’ The mismatch theory dictates that minority students, particularly those of color, do not tend to do well in highly competitive graduate programs because they enter college without sufficient skills and knowledge to compete.


Rather than go after Scalia over what some view as insensitive remarks, Cherry looked at the mismatch theory as having legitimate validity. He made reference to programs currently used by the U.S. military and Vanderbilt University that are proving successful.

Equipping Students to Succeed

According to Cherry, black candidates recommended to West Point typically have lower SAT scores and less impressive academic records when compared to others entering the academy. Yet rather than ignore this, the Army developed a one-year program aimed at preparing black cadets for the academy through a dedicated program at Fort Dix. According to Cherry, some 60% of those enrolled in the program complete it and go on to West Point. There they perform better than cadets of all other groups who did not receive the preparatory training.

It all boils down to whether or not undergraduate students are fully prepared to dive into a graduate program when the time comes. The reality is that graduate programs at highly competitive universities are both challenging and difficult. Admitting students with lower academic abilities simply based on sex or ethnicity does not equip those students to succeed in an extremely competitive environment. In fact, the mismatch theory suggests it puts those students at a disadvantage.

Minority-focused STEM programs succeed where others fail by making up for the academic disadvantages among the minority population. Such programs bring minority candidates “up to speed” so to speak. By the time they are ready to enter graduate programs, they are able to compete with other students much more easily.

Time for a Shift in Focus

It is one thing to say we need more diversity in pharmaceuticals and life sciences; it is something entirely different to actually address the problem with meaningful solutions. Organizations such as the U.S. military and Vanderbilt University are stepping up with dedicated programs that are clearly helping minority candidates. Others need to follow in short order.

If we are to achieve diversity in every field, not just pharmaceuticals and life sciences, we must address the underlying disparities in educational performance during the junior high and high school years. If that means we begin steering students to less competitive colleges where they can receive a proper undergraduate education prior to starting graduate work, then that is the way to go.

It is time for a shift of focus. A shift away from measuring minority success based on raw enrollment numbers and, instead, toward quantifying the success of minority students who actually graduate and go on to meaningful careers in their chosen fields. Enrollment numbers mean nothing if minority candidates cannot compete. Therefore, we need to develop ways to prepare them to compete. Minority-focused STEM programs are a step in the right direction.


  • New York Post –

Big Pharma Looking at a New Kind of Diversity

When we think of diversity in Big Pharma, we typically think of creating more opportunities for minority candidates at every level of the corporate ladder. That’s a good thing. A more diverse workplace means the opportunity for more ideas and different ways of looking at things. But is it reasonable to take the idea of diversity one step further? Is it possible that Big Pharma is being forced into a new kind of diversity that goes above and beyond the workforce?

Fierce Pharma’s Tracy Staton published an excellent piece on December 24 (2015) outlining some of the changes we can expect in the pharmaceutical industry for 2016. Among those changes is a concerted effort among pharmaceutical companies to branch out into partnerships with various technology companies. At the core of the issue, says Staton, is something known as the ‘beyond the pill’ business model.


Beyond the pill thinking says that pharmaceutical companies need to focus less on selling products and more on understanding and maximizing the outcomes produced by those products. For example, it does not make a lot of sense to focus on selling a treatment that is debatable even if there is a huge demand for it. Companies are better off concentrating on products with real and documented positive outcomes.

The problem with the beyond the pill strategy is that Big Pharma has no reliable means of measuring success other than the volume of drugs and medical equipment they sell. There are no means in place for quantifying outcomes in a way that would make beyond the pill meaningful. This is where the need for a more diverse business model comes into play.

Partnering with Big Technology

The whole idea of diversity rests on the belief that every individual has something important to contribute, irrespective of any irrelevant factors such as sex and ethnicity. If we expand that idea to include partnerships between Big Pharma and Big Technology, it becomes apparent that technology companies like Microsoft and IBM have plenty they can contribute to pharmaceuticals and life sciences. Big Pharma has apparently figured that out.

According to Staton, Google is set to become one of the major players in big data for healthcare in the coming years. Already a number of pharmaceutical companies have inked deals with Google to provide them with the cutting-edge tools they need to measure the outcomes of some of their products. Pharmaceutical companies provide the drugs, Google provides the technology to mine the data, and end-users (think hospitals) supply the data through patient monitoring and interviewing.

Embracing the Future Now

Pharmaceutical and life science companies are now under the gun to bring their business models in line with the new outcome-focused healthcare model the U.S. is transitioning to. They are expected to be part of the solution rather than a continuing source of problems. That means marrying traditional Big Pharma practices with ongoing technology to embrace the future now.

Just how all of this plays out will be fascinating to watch. As Big Pharma adopts a new kind of diversity that will see it working with technology giants that have no direct link to biotech, the way pharmaceutical and life sciences companies do business will change drastically. Rather than being the dominant force behind the direction of biotech, they will become equal partners with technology companies and care providers to create the best possible outcomes for patients.

Whether this transition to business diversity happens voluntarily or not, it must happen. We can never achieve a truly patient-focused system until Big Pharma places more emphasis on creating positive outcomes.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder in Pharma and Life Sciences

Women and minorities have made some progress in gaining access to entry-level and lower management jobs in pharmaceuticals and life sciences. Yet the farther one looks up the corporate ladder, the fewer women and minorities are seen. From mid-level management to corporate boardrooms, diversity is still not as pronounced as it should be. But it does not have to stay that way.


Minorities are more likely to work their way up the corporate ladder now than they were just 10 to 20 years ago. Those who are succeeding have found that there is a new way to play the game. Rather than embarking on a career that begins with an entry-level job at a pharmaceutical corporation with the hope of eventually becoming a board member or CEO, minority candidates are now pursuing strategies that will land an upper management or board position from the get go. It is a new way of climbing the corporate ladder that prepares a person to be at the top before he or she ever arrives.

Making this strategy work relies on paying attention to some key areas from the earliest stages of career development:

  • Industry Experience – Successful minority candidates increase their hiring potential by broadening their industry experience as much as possible. The pharmaceutical board member of tomorrow may spend years working in finance, technology, or some other industry not directly related to pharmaceuticals and life sciences. The reason for this is simple: the healthcare industry is adopting a new business model that requires every player to do business like the rest of the world. Having experienced in other industries is seen as a positive thing for pharma and life sciences companies trying to adapt.
  • Global Experience – Both pharmaceuticals and life sciences are being heavily influenced by foreign cultures. Simply put, the sector is no longer dominated by the U.S., Great Britain, and France. Future executives will be more attractive to the boardroom and C-suite if they have extensive experience in the global business culture.
  • Improved Communication Skills – One of the biggest hindrances to diversity is a lack of solid communication skills. The reality is that members of minority groups communicate differently because they see life differently. Yet there is another reality that cannot be ignored: it is not possible for minorities to force others to communicate the way they do. Therefore, they have to learn to communicate in ways that others understand, if they want to succeed.
  • Embracing Ambition – It is normal for minority candidates to go into a hiring situation already assuming the worst. Such an attitude tends to crush ambition and confidence simultaneously. One of the best things the minority candidate can do is to embrace ambition in such a way as to make it clear there are certain goals one intends to reach no matter how difficult the challenge. Embracing ambition is to embrace confidence in yourself and what you can do.

It is no secret that people tend to associate with others who share the same values and mindset. Therefore, it stands to reason that upper management is more comfortable hiring those who fit into their own group rather than branching out in a more diverse direction. This is certainly true in pharmaceuticals and life sciences, an industry that has been dominated by white males for decades.

Minority candidates can make their way up the corporate ladder if they know how to use the current system to their advantage. By strengthening their brand, they make it more difficult for those who make hiring decisions to ignore them.

Personalized Medicine on the Radar for Life Sciences Companies

A new report from Reed Smith and MergerMarket paints a brighter than expected future for pharmaceutical and life sciences companies looking to grow through acquisition. Part of that future includes a foray into personalized medicine, a strategy that could prove to be a lifesaver for some companies that may not be able to continue any other way. Whether the report turns out to be entirely accurate or not, it does offer some interesting food for thought.

The report, titled Life Lines: Life Sciences M&A and The Rise of Personalized Medicine, concentrates on analyzing cross-border acquisitions in the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries. It attempts to clarify who is behind the acquisitions, why those acquisitions are being made, and what companies expect to get out of them. One of the most interesting aspects of the report is the fact that 94% of the executives responding to the survey plan on transacting acquisition next year. Some 91% of those executives believe their transactions will be cross-border in nature.


Companies Looking at Personalized Medicine

Anyone who has worked in, or otherwise had the opportunity to be part of, life sciences and pharmaceuticals knows all too well how volatile both industries are. Life science companies open and close all the time in direct relation to funding streams. Meanwhile, those companies that do seem to succeed are always looking for the next big thing to push the bottom line. But what is the next big thing?

No one knows for sure, but the Life Lines report indicates plenty of executives are keeping an eye on personalized medicine. What is personalized medicine? Think of it in terms of a doctor looking for that perfect drug for a patient, prescribed at just the right time. Personalized medicine is a model that focuses on treating patients according to their individual needs rather than utilizing broad-based solutions proposed by insurance companies and medical boards. Big Pharma and life sciences believe there is a future in this model.

That future may rest in diversity. For example, the large wave of baby boomer retirements expected over the next ten years will mean more older people accessing healthcare than ever before. There appears to be a large untapped market for prescription drugs and medical devices geared specifically to this age group. Companies that can capitalize on the baby boomer generation are likely to do very well.

Another promising area is that of women’s health. For years, the medical industry has been clamoring for more drugs aimed at treating issues specific to women, and now Big Pharma and life sciences might finally be ready to deliver. As far as diversity goes, there are implications for everything from specific demographic groups to emerging diseases requiring specialized drugs.

The Regulatory Question

According to the Life Lines report, the biggest hurdle to harnessing the personalized medicine model is a lack of regulatory control. Some 34% of the survey respondents indicated as much, along with concerns about patient satisfaction, developing clinical trials for new drugs, and return on investment. It is likely that more companies would have a more positive view of personalized medicine if the regulatory questions were put to rest.

Clear regulatory guidance would give pharmaceutical and life science companies the direction they need to pursue the most promising products for personalized medicine. It will also enable them to channel their resources into those drugs most likely to succeed. As we close the year and embark on 2016, all eyes will be on the government to see how they will address personalized medicine, if they address it at all.


  • HIT Consultant –

Gender Equality in the Lab: Good or Bad?

There will be a whole new way of doing things at R&D labs beginning in 2016 thanks to a new government policy aimed at bringing gender equality to the R&D lab. That policy, which was first introduced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2014, is set to go into effect in just a few months. Any labs receiving research funding from the NIH will have to use equal numbers of male and female lab animals in their research in order to continue receiving funding.

The NIH recently updated the policy to head off numerous complaints by opponents of the plan. For example, the original policy included requirements to use what the agency termed as “male and female cells” in laboratory research. Opponents claim there are no such thing as male and female cells while proponents counter that every cell does indeed have and identifiable sex. The NIH simply scrapped that requirement to avoid the confrontation.


What does remain of the policy will require studies using female lab rats and other study animals at unprecedented levels. The question everyone is asking is whether or not this is good or bad for women. Let us look at both sides of the argument.

Good for Women’s Health

Female lab animals have historically been eschewed because it is believed that their hormonal cycles make it impossible to get accurate data on a large scale. This belief has led to pharmaceutical companies using primarily male lab animals in their tests, collecting the appropriate data, and then generalizing it to include both male and female humans. This has not been a problem for men inasmuch as direct correlations are often drawn between human males in their animal counterparts. But it has never worked well for women.

One example often cited by proponents of the plan is the fact that female mice respond to pain in ways that are entirely different from male mice. In order to effectively treat human patients suffering from chronic pain, researchers need to know what those differences are in order to make better use of data. And since 70% of chronic pain patients are women, it makes no sense to study pain therapies using male lab animals exclusively.

Bad for Women’s Health

Opponents of the NIH plan say that while they recognize the intent behind the mandate, forcing labs to use equal numbers of male and female animals for testing purposes could end up doing more damage to women’s health as a result. They base their arguments on the presupposition that the similarities between humans and research animals are not as significant as researchers would have us believe. Opponents fear that studying female lab animals in greater numbers could lead researchers to reach incorrect conclusions that could actually be harmful.

One example cited to justify this position is the sleep drug Ambien. A few years ago, the FDA reduced the recommended dosage for women citing multiple complaints of patients struggling with excessive fatigue. Further research into the drug revealed that the disparity between men and women had nothing to do with sex. It was related to body weight. There was no metabolic difference between the two sexes that accounted for any measurable differences in how the two react to the drug.

Whether you are for or against the new NIH policy, it will be in play next year. Research labs that expect to receive agency funding will have to use equal numbers of male and female lab animals in their research, with few exceptions. Hopefully, the policy will improve women’s health rather than harm it.

  • Sources:
    BuzzFeed –