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Biden signs an executive order to help with women's health research

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden signed an executive order yesterday to allocate $12 billion to new women's health research at the National Institutes of Health. The White House initiative on women's health research will be led by First Lady Jill Biden. She spoke at a ceremony to kick off the project yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JILL BIDEN: Too many of our medications, treatments and medical school textbooks are based on men and their bodies. But that ends today.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN: The first lady will work with the White House Gender Policy Council, and joining us to tell us more about this is the director of that council, Jennifer Klein. Jennifer Klein, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

JENNIFER KLEIN: Thanks for having me. Good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. So the Biden administration said that, quote, "agencies will take action to ensure women's health is being considered at every step in the research process," unquote. But the NIH is already required by law to include women and minorities in clinical research. So what more does this do? What more does the administration plan to do?

KLEIN: It does two things beyond the current standards that are already in place at NIH, which, as you said, require that women and people of color are represented in clinical trials. So what this executive order will do is, first of all, extend that beyond NIH to all federal research, wherever that is done, at every agency that's done, and second of all, from basic research to clinical trials, also to the research that translates into clinical practice. So that's the first thing that it will do. And second of all, it will strengthen research and data standards related to women's health. So that's everything from study to design to data collection and analysis to how that data is reported. So this builds on what is already in place at the NIH that goes much further.

MARTIN: And...

KLEIN: And the last thing I would say is that it also - an important announcement that was made yesterday was an additional new $200 million from NIH beginning next year in fiscal 2025 that will allow NIH to really catalyze interdisciplinary research. So too much research has happened in silos, and this will allow NIH to really work on issues that cut across the traditional mandates of the institutes and centers at NIH, for example, to look at the connection between menopause and bone health or brain health or heart health.

MARTIN: Interesting. And what about trans women and people who are intersex? Will they be included in this initiative?

KLEIN: Yes, this initiative covers women. You know, women are 50% of the population. And for far too long, women's health research has been underfunded and understudied. So what this focus is on is those sort of long-ignored areas. That's why, for example, the executive order specifically points to midlife health, which is an area that has been understudied for far too long, but it also looks at diseases from that - where women have been disproportionately affected. For example, Alzheimer's disease - two-thirds of patients with Alzheimer's are women, and yet the funding does not match those numbers - to diseases like heart disease, where it disproportionately - it differently affects women and we don't always know why and how. And that relates to how women are treated when, you know, (inaudible) when they're potentially having a heart attack. You know, doctors and health care providers need to know exactly how to treat them in situations like that.

MARTIN: I take what you're saying. I'm just wondering, what is the process for sort of deciding what the priority is, given, as you said, that there are so many of these established diseases that present differently in women. And - but there are also areas that have been continually underfunded, like as you said, you know, menopause. So what's the process for deciding what the priority is?

KLEIN: Well, what the executive order does is ask agencies to prioritize investments in women's health. So, for example, just last month, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for health, known as ARPA-H, announced a $100 million sprint to really get to innovative solutions. We're not going to get involved in directing the science. That's for the scientists to do. But what we've asked every agency to do through this executive order is look at just the kind of question that you just asked, which is where can we make transformative progress?

MARTIN: You only have 30 seconds, but if this - if the administration does not win in November, what happens to this funding?

KLEIN: I think, first of all, the $200 million that I referred to earlier will be spent by NIH. They've committed to do that. And second of all, the president asked Congress to join him in spending $12 billion for women's health research. There is a long history of bipartisanship on this issue, and we believe that it's in everybody's interest and that Congress will go ahead and join us.

MARTIN: All right. That is Jen Klein. She's the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, which is co-leading the initiative on women's health research. Jen Klein, thank you.

KLEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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