Research focus

Gynecology

Pioneer in contraception and hormone replacement

With almost nine decades of experience, Bayer is one of the true pioneers in the field of women's health. In the 1920s scientists at the company, then called Schering AG, conducted early basic research and made a significant contribution to explaining the molecular structure of sex hormones. In 1928 the company launched the world's first estrogen preparation for treating menopausal complaints. Researchers later developed ethinyl estradiol, which is still used today as the estrogen component in most contraceptive pills. In 1961 the company launched Europe's first contraceptive pill.

Gynecological therapies

Diseases such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids represent a great unmet medical need in the gynecology field. These diseases generally have a substantial negative impact on the health and quality of life of affected patients. To date there is still a need to develop more satisfactory drug therapies for these common disorders, which affect a large number of women in our society. For several years now, Bayer has therefore been focusing its research in women's health on developing new therapies for these two benign gynecological diseases. In this field Bayer's scientists collaborate closely with researchers in oncology to make use of multidisciplinary skills.

Endometriosis is a chronic disease that affects five to ten percent of women of childbearing age. Tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus, for example in the Fallopian tubes or on the ovaries or other internal organs. This results in chronic inflammation, which can lead to severe, convulsive menstrual pain, bleeding, chronic lower abdominal pain, and in the long term adhesions of the affected organs. Endometriosis is a common cause of infertility.

Although the surgical removal of the lesions effectively combats the pain for a limited period of time, it involves the risks of an operation, including further adhesions and a high relapse rate. The drugs currently available interfere greatly with women's hormonal balance. So-called GnRH analogs ease the symptoms by reducing the level of estrogen in the body significantly. This is tantamount to a chemical offset of menopause with all typical associated side effects, including osteoporosis, hot flashes, etc. Therefore, GnRH analogs are unsuitable for long-term treatment.

Researchers at Bayer have developed a first effective way of treating endometriosis over the long term, by lowering the estrogen level within a therapeutic window: the excruciating pain can then be significantly reduced without causing estrogen depletion symptoms as observed with GnRH analogs. Another active substance is currently at an early stage of clinical development.

Today Bayer's scientists are focusing their research on non-hormonal therapeutic treatment approaches with an optimized benefit/risk profile and improved efficacy. These therapeutic agents are designed to also help women whose response to hormonal therapeutic agents is insufficient, or who are not eligible to take hormones.

Uterine fibroids are benign tumors of the uterine muscle. At least five percent of women of childbearing age have symptomatic fibroids. The most common symptoms include severe, sometimes long menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain. In addition, the pressure on organs and nerve tracts exerted by the lumps, which can be up to 20 centimeters thick, can cause back pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse, bladder emptying and defecation. Such complaints can necessitate therapy.

Fibroids are currently the most common reason for performing a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus). Alternatives – such as keyhole surgery, ultrasound or the minimally invasive sclerotization of the tumor by blocking the afferent arteries – are not suitable for all patients and fibroid types.

Bayer's researchers are therefore working on new therapy approaches that both inhibit fibroid growth and alleviate the symptoms, especially the heavy menstrual bleeding.