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Redefining the standard of care to meet the needs of women with rheumatic diseases

Posted by
Athanasia Gkiouleka, Rheumatology Mission

For women living with chronic rheumatic diseases like psoriatic arthritis (PsA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), their condition can permeate every aspect of their life, as they manage painful symptoms, long diagnostic times, and ongoing treatment plans. Studies have shown the prevalence of many rheumatic diseases is higher in women, but despite this, there are marked inequalities in their diagnosis and treatment, often leading to poorer outcomes.

At UCB, it is our mission to support women with severe chronic rheumatic diseases and empower them to make informed decisions about their health. We hope to achieve this by ensuring women and their healthcare team have access to data which can help inform the best course of treatment for them. This is a mission I am proud of and is also a personal goal of mine – I see it as our duty to equip healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients with the information they need to better treat women and lighten the burden of disease. 
I firmly believe that this is particularly true for women of childbearing age. Thinking about starting or growing a family should be an exciting time, but for women living with chronic rheumatic diseases, it can be filled with uncertainty and anxiety. This is compounded by the limited – and often confusing and contradictory – information available about the possible risks of treatment before, during and after pregnancy. It is astonishing that, despite advances in modern healthcare, just five percent of medications have undergone proper monitoring, evaluation, and labeling for their use during pregnancy and breastfeeding . As a result, women who are already struggling with the debilitating symptoms of their disease do not have access to enough data to have an informed discussion with their HCP when starting a family.

Our clinical teams work to improve the standard of care for women through the provision of validated evidence and quality disease management tools. In rheumatology, this approach is built into our preclinical drug development program, as we explore innovative solutions for rheumatological diseases of high unmet need, including disruptive treatments with immune reset potential. By considering women through the entire development process, we hope to bring them closer to long-lasting, drug-free remission. 
This week, we are excited to participate in the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Convergence 2023, which presents the perfect opportunity to explore the latest scientific breakthroughs designed to advance the care of people living with rheumatic diseases. We will present 25 abstracts across psoriasis (PsO), PsA, RA, axSpA and SLE – all of which are known to carry a significant burden on women – as we look to redefine disease management and tackle the distinct challenges faced by patients. 

While the prevalence of psoriasis is similar between genders, differences exist in the presentation of symptoms, communication, and treatment outcomes. Disease onset in women often overlaps with childbearing age, and they are more likely to report lower levels of happiness, experience stress, stigmatization and reduced sexual activity than men. These differences need to be considered in treatment guidelines to improve the standard of care for women with psoriasis.

PsA occurs equally in men and women but has a higher impact on the quality of life for women. Women are more likely to experience higher levels of functional limitation, work disability, fatigue and pain, and as such, it is vital we consider the distinct impact on women in treatment pathways.

Historically, axSpA, and specifically ankylosing spondylitis, was considered a disease that predominantly affects men; however, with the evolution of the concept of axSpA, it has been recognized that the disease is equally prevalent in women and men. Despite this, women still experience a longer time to diagnosis, higher disease activity and less responsiveness to treatments. Increasing awareness of axSpA will ultimately lead to better diagnosis and treatment of women affected by this condition.

RA is three times more likely to affect women than men and of those who live with the disease, women also report more severe symptoms and greater disability. For women of childbearing age with RA, nearly 20 percent reported that the disease was impacting their family planning decisions with concerns that included functional ability to care for their child, medications, and possible heritability of RA. With no cure currently available for RA, care needs to be made to ensure data are available for women to fully understand their treatment options.

SLE is a condition most common in women between the ages of 15 and 50. Pregnancy in women with SLE carries a higher maternal and fetal risk compared with pregnancy in healthy women. At UCB, we are committed to research in lupus and improving the lives of people living with this condition.

The evidence is clear: it is of utmost importance that we view these diseases through the lens of those who are most significantly impacted. At UCB, we place patients at the heart of everything we do – from discovery to development to delivery – and when considering the future of treatment in chronic rheumatic, we want to ensure that women are placed at the center of the conversation.

We look forward to uniting with our partners and the rheumatology community at the ACR Convergence 2023, as we strive to develop innovative and differentiated solutions which can make a real difference to the lives of women living with rheumatic diseases.

The views expressed here reflect the author’s view and not necessarily those of UCB Biopharma SRL. 

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