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The Drug Dose Gender Gap

Across industries, women and their allies have fought to close the gender gap. For pharma, the problem is not only a professional one – it affects the health of female patients worldwide. And now, using data from over 2,000 journal articles, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Chicago, have found that 86 FDA-approved drugs are affected by a drug dosing gender gap (1).

“The common practice of prescribing equal drug doses to women and men neglects sex differences in pharmacokinetics, dimorphisms in body weight, and risks overmedication of women,” says Irving Zucker, the study’s lead author. “We discovered that 76 of the 86 drugs we investigated had negative effects in female patients.”

The Berkeley and Chicago researchers’ analysis showed that, when given the same dose as men, women were more likely to experience higher concentrations of a drug in their blood and take longer to eliminate it from their bodies. This pharmacokinetic data, Zucker and Prendergast explain, are strongly linked to adverse drug reactions. “Not only are women at risk of experiencing elevated blood concentrations, but they are also more likely to face worse drug reactions,” Zucker says. “In 96 percent of the studies evaluated, women experienced adverse reactions twice as often as men. These were often severe – causing symptoms like depression and hallucination.”

But how can we achieve gender parity? Zucker and Prendergast believe there is more work to be done. “Though the US National Institutes of Health has mandated the inclusion of women in clinical trials, credible evidence of sex differences in pharmacokinetics and adverse drug reactions should be made available in drug labels.” The authors added that, to attain long-term change, it is crucial to increase awareness of sex bias, its sources, and the countermeasures that can diminish gender disparities in medicine.

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  1. I Zucker, BJ Prendergast, “Sex differences in pharmacokinetics predict adverse drug reactions in women,” Biol Sex Differ, 11, 32 (2020).

About the Author

Maryam Mahdi

Associate Editor

After finishing my degree, I envisioned a career in science communications. However, life took an unexpected turn and I ended up teaching abroad. Though the experience was amazing and I learned a great deal from it, I jumped at the opportunity to work for Texere. I'm excited to see where this new journey takes me!

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