Organon CEO: 'We are definitely going to be involved' with White House women's health initiative

It has objectively been a whirlwind week for Organon CEO Kevin Ali. 

The biopharmaceutical executive is co-chairing the CEO Summit at this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Week in San Francisco, guiding meetings between attending executives and world leaders or other business chiefs. 

But work with the White House may now be beeping loudest on his radar after President Joe Biden announced a new initiative Monday to prioritize women’s health research that will be led by the first lady, Jill Biden. Ali says the commitment “really just overlaps exactly” with Organon’s mission. 

“We weren't involved, but we are definitely going to be involved,” he said about the initiative. Organon, which spun out from Merck & Co. in 2021, is a mainstay in women-focused drug development, both for biosimilars and novel therapeutics, at a time when there’s been a dearth in new research.

The federal drive will look to stimulate research across women’s health care, with the initiative memo noting that research gaps are seen most in areas that primarily or only affect women. But it also intends to address broader disease areas that often are centered on men or how they present in men. Jill Biden mentioned cardiovascular disease as an example on a call with reporters. Ali echoed this effort in Organon’s goals.

“There are maternal health issues, gynecologic health issues, there are so many unmet needs, and at the same time, such a paltry level of investment in R&D, and you need to marry those two things together in order to get to a better place,” he said.

A 2021 analysis of National Institutes of Health funding found that diseases primarily affecting men are not only prioritized over women-focused conditions, but they are disproportionately funded for the disease burden.

In the biotech ecosystem, progress is also driven through business development, which has been extremely quiet in the women’s health care space. Not a single biotech focused on women’s health care has been acquired so far this year, according to the Fierce Biotech M&A Tracker. Ali says Organon is working on it and has screened more than 400 potential companies and assets in the last year and a half.

He was salient about where Organon stands to benefit, arguing that larger pharmaceutical companies may not buy into an asset that couldn’t rake in more than $1 billion in sales. Not Organon, which Ali says could be a good fit for a product that ultimately has a $400 million to $600 million peak. 

“There's quite a bit more to play with in that space, that we can continue then to launch year over year and ultimately, though it brings value, it may not be the multibillions of a Keytruda or whatever it is,” he said. 

As for the White House’s goal, Ali is optimistic it will genuinely translate to valuable policy, noting that members of the initiative are required to provide recommendations to the first lady in the next 45 days.