Organon hopes straight talk will help level the field in women's health

It’s just over a year since the launch of Merck's women’s health spinoff, Organon, and Chief Communications Officer Wendy Lund emphasizes while there’s been progress, there’s still a long way to go in elevating women’s health.

The company launched with the promise of addressing women’s unmet health needs, and the pharma set up a website where people could say exactly what issues they felt deserved attention. But in reality, even language around women’s health needs adjusting, and part of that battle is normalizing women’s bodies, those bodies’ functions and even the diseases that affect those bodies.

While the younger generations are getting better at discussing some of these issues, Organon cites a survey that reported “women ages 18-38 found that 83% of Gen Zers and 72% of Millennials think periods are a totally natural process and should be discussed by everyone (including men)—but only 67% of respondents said they are comfortable talking about their periods with others of any sex.”

“There’s this need to really talk—to have these conversations—about our bodies and how our bodies work. How we stay focused on if we want to get pregnant, then get pregnant; and if we don't, we don’t. But I think we kind of live in this world where there's still so much that needs to be done.” Lund said.

Lund cites a recent talk she gave at South by Southwest about addressing  “below the belt” issues. The phrasing didn’t sit right with her—it was (as usual) too male-centric. Of course women can wear belts, but the connotation is still overwhelmingly male.

“In the afternoon I went out and did my own mental survey of the women walking up and down the street in Austin. What I saw was that women were basically wearing yoga pants or dresses. Even women in jeans weren't wearing belts,” she said.

While this may seem trite—belt or no belt—it leads to bigger issues about how women’s health is addressed or not addressed. Lund worries that even the term “women’s health” does a disservice as many may think of only reproductive health which is, of course, only one piece of the puzzle. Excluded from this narrative are often conditions that only affect women, and those that primarily affect them. Many of those issues such as postpartum hemorrhage, preterm labor, endometriosis, PCOS, bacterial vaginosis and, of course, menopause, are stigmatized, often due to the issues being sexualized—because they are women’s diseases.

Part of the way to overcome these issues is to get more women involved; Lund says more women need to be in the lab and involved all together in the field. A few weeks ago, Organon launched a new ESG platform in the hopes of addressing this.

The future looks bright for Organon as its women’s health sales rose 6% in the fourth quarter to $415 million, while other brands saw a 2% drop of about $1.04 billion. Recently, it closed a deal with Henlius Biotech to commercialize biosimilar candidates referencing Roche's breast cancer drug Perjeta (pertuzumab) and Amgen's Prolia/Xgeva (denosumab).

Descended from Merck, the company spun off with a portfolio of more than 60 products and an international workforce of 9,500 employees. Organon’s main offering is Nexplanon, a long-acting, reversible birth control implant. It also produces hormone-based birth control device NuvaRing.