Historically, medical research has often taken a one-size-fits-all approach, lumping women and men together despite growing evidence that the sexes differ in how they catch and fight disease.
A stark example was the heart drug digoxin, which was widely marketed in the late 1990s on the basis of a trial that showed it to be effective and safe. But over time a higher incidence of side-effects in women emerged. When the same dataset was analysed on the basis of sex, it showed digoxin decreased mortality in men – but increased mortality in women.
Covid-19 seems to be a case in point when it comes to differences between the sexes, with men thought to be up to twice as likely as women to die from the virus. But a new analysis suggests that scientists involved in the race to develop medical interventions for the coronavirus have paid little attention to these disparities.
“Women are not just small men. We have different hormones [levels], smaller kidneys and more fat tissue where drugs can accumulate,” said Dr Cara Tannenbaum, a scientific director at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. “There’s so many reasons why things can go wrong.”