Tommy’s experts call for urgent action on pregnancy ‘drug drought’

Today, a group of maternal health experts from the University of Birmingham, including researchers from Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research, are launching an urgent national call for lifesaving research into pharmaceuticals to improve outcomes for mothers and babies.

In their ‘Safe and Effective Medicines for Use in Pregnancy: A Call to Action’ report, experts are calling on the government, policymakers, clinicians, industry, charities, academics and others to work together to improve the quality and quantity of medications which can be used during pregnancy. Doing this will help to make pregnancy safer for some women and improve the chances of meeting the government’s target to halve the number of babies who die by 2025.

Globally, 2.7 million women and babies die each year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth – including 1 death every 6 minutes due to pre-eclampsia. As well as health conditions which develop during pregnancy, pregnant women may be diagnosed with infections such as COVID-19. Many women also enter pregnancy with pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes or mental health conditions like depression. Improving the development of effective medicines would mean healthcare professionals are better able to treat some of these conditions and potentially save more babies’ lives.

Despite this, only one new drug has been developed specifically for use in pregnancy in more than 30 years, and 73% of drugs used in pregnancy come with no safety information relating to their use by pregnant women.

Our Chief Executive Jane Brewin said:

“The ‘Safe and Effective Medicines for Use in Pregnancy’ report sets out how this crucial research can be managed to de-risk research, mitigate safety concerns and give confidence to women and their clinicians.

At Tommy’s, our focus is on ensuring that pregnant women have access to the best possible care and treatment to improve their chances of having a happy, healthy and, most importantly, safe pregnancy. Our research works to find new ways to treat pregnancy complications and disease, but there is still a lack of understanding about which drugs can safely, and effectively, be used in pregnancy which can delay research breakthroughs and improvements in care.

In order to save more babies’ lives, we need to find new treatments for the many women who enter pregnancy with existing health conditions or develop complications during pregnancy. Therefore, Tommy’s welcomes this renewed focus on the need to consider pregnant women when developing new pharmaceuticals and to ensure their absolute safety.”  

Professor Arri Coomarasamy, Director of the Tommy’s Centre for Miscarriage, said:

“We need new approaches, interventions and medicines when it comes to improving the outcomes for pregnant women and saving babies’ lives. However, pregnant women are a neglected group when it comes to developing new medications. Compare the one drug developed for use in pregnancy in the last 30 years to the hundreds of drugs developed for other diseases, few of which contain necessary safety data for use in pregnancy. This is unacceptable and has to change.”

Peter Brocklehurst, Professor of Women’s Health at Birmingham Health Partners added:

“Pregnancy complications, including pre-term birth and pre-eclampsia have a huge impact on families and society as a whole. The consequences of preterm birth alone cost the UK economy almost £3bn annually and, while we have the ability to tackle these issues for mothers at home and abroad, we have barely begun. Many of the women and babies who die during pregnancy and birth could be saved, and 15 million babies could be spared the disability and mortality risks linked with being born too early, if we act now.”