Maternity experts call for more research into new and existing drugs for pregnant women

on 04 February 2021

Maternity experts at the University of Birmingham are calling for more research into new and existing pharmaceutical drugs that can be used for pregnant women.

According to the experts from the Birmingham Health Partners’ (BHP) founding members (University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust) only one drug has been developed specifically for use in pregnancy in more than 30 years, and 73% of drugs used by pregnant women come with no safety information relating to their use.

The NHP founding members are calling on politicians, clinicians, midwives and researchers to end the ‘drug drought’ through developing and testing new and existing medicines in pregnancy, as part of the UK Government’s ambitions to halve maternal and infant deaths by 2025.

Globally 2.7 million women and children die each year from causes related to pregnancy and birth, with one death every six minutes due to pre-eclampsia.

The report ‘Safe and Effective Medicines for Use in Pregnancy: A Call to Action’ outlines how research can be managed to mitigate safety concerns and give women and clinicians confidence in the drugs used.

Professor of Obstetrics and Maternal Fetal Medicine and a founding member of BHP, Katie Morris, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic and confusion surrounding the vaccine has brought into sharp focus the absence of pregnant women in most pharmaceutical trials.

“The lack of understanding of which drugs can be safely used in pregnancy combined with reluctance to develop new medicines for mothers-to-be adds up to a major global health issue, but one which could be reversed.

“With collaborative effort, we can stop excluding pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers from clinical research and give them access to the medicines they deserve.”

Professor of Women’s Health at BHP, Peter Brocklehurst, added: “Pregnancy complications, including pre-term birth and pre-eclampsia have a huge impact on families and society as a whole.

“The consequences of pre-term 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.”

The report’s signatories, BHP Professors Katie Morris, Peter Brocklehurst, Arri Coomarasamy and Shakila Thangaratinam will establish a policy commission to review evidence, opportunities and options for policy to form clear, multi-stakeholder recommendations to the UK Government.