Bayer, with new leadership stepping in, deprioritizes women's health R&D

German pharmaceutical giant Bayer is no longer prioritizing R&D investments in women’s health, the company confirmed to Fierce Biotech Friday.

The company said in a statement that it would focus instead on four core therapeutic areas: oncology, cardiovascular, neurology and rare diseases/immunology. The news was first reported by Reuters

“As part of our strategy, we are refining our early innovation framework to concentrate on areas where we anticipate the best opportunities for delivering differentiated, high-value breakthrough medicines to patients,” spokeswoman Anna Koch said. Bayer was the maker of the Yasmin birth control brand. 

The company affirmed, however, that it remains committed to clinical-stage products, including elinzanetant to treat vasomotor symptoms during menopause. The company projects peak sales of the treatment to be north of 1 billion euros.

The decision comes as investments in women-specific health care have failed to garner much attention from the biopharma industry. A report from McKinsey found that only 1% of R&D investments outside oncology in 2020 were for female-specific conditions. Clinical stage investments in female-specific cancers sat at 4%. 

Merck spinout Organon is at least one company that’s bucked the trend, although R&D head Sandy Milligan, M.D., recently told Fierce Biotech that the company can’t do it all by itself. 

“The holy grail, frankly, would be investing in therapeutics that are not just specific to the target, but specific to that woman's expression of the target,” she said. “We're years away from that, but we need to start investing now or we'll never get there.”

Beyond elinzanetant, Bayer has two phase 1-stage assets (PDF) targeting endometriosis, a condition where endometrium-resembling tissue is found outside of the uterus. The first, BAY2328065, has completed three phase 1 studies assessing safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics, according to The second, BAY2395840, is also being tested as a treatment for diabetic nerve pain. It’s similarly completed three phase 1 safety studies. A fourth phase 1 study, specifically in patients with diabetic neuropathic pain and renail impairment, has yet to start recruiting.

The decision to switch up R&D priorities comes as Bayer is set to welcome new CEO Bill Anderson in June. He previously led the pharmaceutical group at Roche.