Biotech leaders protest 'actively harmful' bans on gender-affirming care

Not every person navigating a gender transition has a team of healthcare or biotech pros or even a family behind them. With bans on gender-affirming care spreading across the U.S.—now in 31 states—a group of biotech executives decided to bring the whole industry out in vocal support for the transgender community to resist efforts to ban care.

“Restrictions surrounding gender-affirming care are not only unjustly discriminatory, but also actively harmful,” a letter signed by more than 60 executives reads. The executives specifically call on healthcare providers, legislators and social agencies to support fair access to gender-affirming care for any person, regardless of age, and to resist efforts to dismantle health privacy restrictions under HIPAA.

Healthcare access should never come at the expense of healthcare privacy, especially in today's climate.” — Elizabeth Jeffords, CEO of Iolyx Therapeutics

Iolyx Therapeutics CEO Elizabeth Jeffords is one of the letter’s coordinators. She said many of the people who signed early on have a transgender or gender diverse (TGD) individual in their lives who is currently going through the process of accessing care.

“This letter started as a labor of love and support for our own loved ones, and the realization that for all the TGD minors who live in states and/or families where they don't have their own health advocacy teams, the process would be even more frightening, expensive, and fraught,” Jeffords told Fierce Biotech in an email.

Not our stories to share

The letter was supported by the Biotech Sisterhood advocacy team, a group of women that arranges meet-ups and networking opportunities for female executives. But in the past year, some members of the group have shifted to an underground social advocacy role, organizing a similar letter campaign to support abortion rights that later led to a lawsuit protesting a Texas state court’s attempt to cut access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

Jeffords said that while the sisterhood assisted, the letter needed representation from leaders of all genders to truly show support for the community.

“There are many of us in the signing community who have a trans or gender diverse minor in our lives, and we knew we could have more impact if we shared their stories, but they aren't our stories to share,” Jeffords said. “Healthcare access should never come at the expense of healthcare privacy, especially in today's climate.”

Signatories include Nkarta CEO Paul Hastings, former InCarda CEO Grace E. Colón, Ph.D., RA Capital’s Peter Kolchinsky and Andrew Levin, M.D, Ph.D., OUTbio’s Ramsey Johnson, former AskBio CEO Sheila Mikhail and many more.

“In the end, the letter and subsequent calls to action have broad support of those of us in the biotech community who believe that health equity starts with access,” Jeffords said.

Noting the 150 individual bills and executive orders attempting to strip protections for transgender minors, the letter acknowledges that “these directives can arise from a legitimate concern of potential harm to youth; however, the data does not support the claim of harm.”

“Banning medical care or eliminating medical privacy based solely on gender identity is a discriminatory act that places minors in acute physical and mental danger, against all medical judgement and ethics,” the letter states.

The biotech executives called on the industry for more support. The letter asks the FDA, federal and state governments and judicial bodies to remove barriers to gender-affirming care medicines that have already been proven safe and effective.

The executives suggested that companies can provide financial assistance and other support to employees who need to travel or move so their dependents can access necessary gender-affirming care; enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in employment practices and ensure LGBTQIA+ staff have the support they need; take into account a state’s record on health equity when considering new site locations and seek to reduce their footprints in those with anti-gender affirming care policies. And for companies that do operate in states with bans, companies should partner with local advocacy agencies, the letter's authors added.