While the subject isn't discussed much, it's an open secret that there are few drugs that serve the health needs of the 4 million American women who give birth each year. In fact, in many cases doctors can save mothers and babies with critical pregnancy-related conditions only by delivering babies early, which creates its own set of health problems. Worldwide, scientists are actively developing on 17 medicines for material health, less than 3 percent of the 660 drugs being developed for heart disease and half as many as for Lou Gehrig's disease, which affects only 5,600 patients per year.
Meanwhile, researchers seldom tests drugs for common conditions, such as depression on pregnant women. And no new classes of drugs have been approved for conditions of pregnancy, such as pre-term labor or a liver problem known as cholestatis, leaving OBs with decades-old medicines--or forcing them to prescribe off-label drugs at a time when women and their babies are especially vulnerable, according to Nicholas Fisk, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research in Australia.
However, such slow development of maternal drugs is unlikely to change in the near term, given the risks of testing drugs on pregnant women, observers note. No one (especially drug makers) has forgotten the lessons of thalidomide, the morning sickness drug that caused severe limb deformities in babies, or DES, which caused cancer in daughters of women who took it. Pharmas also bear in mind the controversy over morning sickness drug Bendectin which, despite scientific tests finding no increased risk of birth defects, was blamed for such defects by some women. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals stopped making the drug. (Not long after, the number of pregnant women hospitalized for nausea and vomiting increased substantially.)
To learn more about this issue:
- read this USA Today article