AHA Kicks Off Funding for Women’s Heart Health Amid Sex Gaps

(UPDATED) Starting in late 2024, the $75 million Go Red for Women Venture Fund will begin investing in companies targeting disease.

AHA Kicks Off Funding for Women’s Heart Health Amid Sex Gaps

The American Heart Association (AHA) is creating a $75 million fund to further solutions for women’s health, the organization announced last week.

The Go Red for Women Venture Fund, according to a press release, will begin to invest in “companies targeting cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurologic solutions across a woman’s entire lifespan” as of late 2024. The news comes as the AHA marks its 100th birthday amid projections that at least six in 10 US adults are expected to have CVD in the next three decades.

Specific to women, the AHA has teamed up with the McKinsey Health Institute to produce a new report entitled The State of US Women’s Heart Health: A Path to Improved Health and Financial Outcomes.

Among its key points are the estimate that addressing gaps in CVD between women and men “could lead to an increase of at least 1.6 million years of quality life and boost the US economy by $28 billion annually by 2040.” Together, brain and heart disease contribute to nearly half of the sex-related health gap for women, the document says, amounting to 2 million quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) lost each year. Addressing both could add $100 billion to the annual gross domestic product of the US over the same time frame.

Celina Yong, MD (Stanford University School of Medicine and VA Palo Alto Healthcare System, CA), in an email to TCTMD, said seeing the numbers broken down is useful. “Many of us have long understood the deep impact of women's health, but seeing it in the form of QALYs and tangible numbers impacting the US economy makes a compelling business case for doing what's right,” she said.

Lucy Pérez and Megan Greenfield (McKinsey Health Institute, Boston, MA), who co-authored the document along with AHA leadership, said the commitment to female patients must be broad.

“The narrative around heart health is far beyond the older ages when acute symptoms are most prevalent and expected—heart health needs to be a priority throughout a woman’s lifespan. Assessing cardiovascular risk and disease in puberty, pregnancy, and through the menopausal transition and postmenopause can improve women’s lives significantly,” they told TCTMD in a joint email, adding that the topic is timely on the backdrop of the AHA’s centennial.

The report identifies several strategies for improvement, they noted.

“In research, there’s an urgent need to develop more knowledge around women and heart disease, revamping and expanding clinical research initiatives to include women from all stages of life, and additional transparency and disclosure of evidence on sex-based differences,” Pérez and Greenfield said. “For healthcare providers, there are significant opportunities to train on how to identify and mitigate potential biases within the healthcare system, further strengthening cross-specialty approaches for cardiovascular care (ie, CVD is every healthcare provider’s responsibility, not just cardiologists), and expanding the role that allied healthcare practitioners play in CVD management.”

As for how to start making a difference, Yong had a suggestion of her own.

One place to start is simply making sure that we include women in our existing cardiovascular clinical trials. For decades, the field of cardiology has been a leader in using robust, randomized clinical trials to guide evidence-based patient care. Yet we've persistently enrolled a very low proportion of women,” she pointed out, specifying that on average just 27% of participants in trials of coronary revascularization are female.

“Even though cardiovascular disease is the #1 cause of death among women, our clinical decisions for women rely on studies conducted largely in men and we need to change that,” said Yong.

The McKinsey report and the Go Red For Women Venture Fund are separate projects, an AHA spokesperson told TCTMD. “These two exciting developments are a continuation of the American Heart Association’s extensive commitment to improving women's health and are separate but connected actions demonstrating the breadth of this commitment.”

Yong agreed the new venture fund is noteworthy.

“It's a big deal and represents a real shift in thinking. The truth is that in order to really make a meaningful impact on women's heart health, we can't do it as healthcare providers alone. We can't do it as researchers alone,” she commented. “It requires meaningful investment across the spectrum of stakeholders, and a critical part of that is engaging local entrepreneurs who are working to solve the same problems in their own communities.”

Caitlin E. Cox is News Editor of TCTMD and Associate Director, Editorial Content at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation. She produces the…

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