Reflecting on 2023 to Leverage Innovation to Advance Women’s Health and Research in 2024

By Dr. Janine A. Clayton

Dr. Clayton headshot 2023 was a productive year at Team ORWH filled with notable successes. ORWH appointed new leadership, forged new partnerships, and realigned resources and people to address ongoing challenges facing women’s health and research. Before I share some of the highlights and milestones from 2023, I am delighted to announce ORWH will release a new strategic plan in 2024. The NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Research on the Health of Women defines a vision for NIH for the next 5 years to advance women’s health research through a comprehensive, data-driven approach. The plan emphasizes diversity in perspective and envisions achieving health equity for women by addressing gaps and opportunities, including the effects of sex and gender in women’s health research. 

Now, let’s take a look at where we focused our efforts and what we achieved this past year. 

HIV and Women Signature Program

In March 2023, the Office of AIDS Research (OAR) and ORWH launched the OAR-ORWH HIV and Women Signature Program. Further research is critical to understanding optimal ways to prevent, treat, and cure HIV and associated comorbidities across women’s lifespans. Please read the March 2023 blog co-authored with Maureen M. Goodenow, Ph.D., former director of OAR, detailing the launch of the OAR-ORWH partnership. 

7th Annual Vivian W. Pinn Symposium

In May 2023, ORWH hosted the 7th Annual Vivian W. Pinn Symposium titled “Menopause and Optimizing Midlife Health of Women.” The symposium discussed many aspects of menopause across the lifespan, and JoAnn Manson, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., MACP, Harvard Medical School, delivered the keynote speech titled “Menopausal Hormone Therapy: 30 Years of Lessons from the Women’s Health Initiative.” A summary of the symposium is available on the ORWH website. To continue to improve the health of women across the life course, ORWH launched the Research on Menopause and Midlife Health webpage, which lists NIH research and resources, non-federal resources, and funding opportunities  related to menopause. 

ORWH Launched the Office of Autoimmune Disease Research 

In June 2023, the NIH Office of Autoimmune Disease Research in ORWH (OADR-ORWH) was established. Congress allocated $10 million in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (Public Law 117-328) to create OADR-ORWH. 

In November 2023, Victoria Shanmugam, MBBS, MRCP, FACR, CCD, was appointed the inaugural director of OADR-ORWH. Dr. Shanmugam is an experienced physician-scientist, rheumatologist, and academic leader. Recently, OADR-ORWH released the Request for Information (RFI): Inviting Input on an NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Autoimmune Disease Research, which seeks input from internal and external partners throughout the scientific research, advocacy, and clinical practices communities to advance autoimmune disease research. I look forward to continuing the development of OADR-ORWH to further the mission of improving the health of women.     

Finally, the latest issue of Women’s Health in Focus at NIH explores research on autoimmune diseases in women, and the feature story describes seven autoimmune diseases that predominately affect women. A guest editorial by Dr. Shanmugam details the mission of the new office and efforts under way to improve the health of women.

Innovation Equity Forum Women’s Health Innovation Opportunity Map 2023

In July 2023, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and ORWH co-sponsored the Innovation Equity Forum (IEF), which brought together stakeholders from more than 50 countries worldwide to address women’s health and well-being. The meeting resulted in a report titled Women’s Health Innovation Opportunity Map 2023: 50 High-Return Opportunities to Advance Global Women’s Health R&D. I encourage you to read the full report to learn more about the IEF Opportunity Map; both the full report and the executive summary are available in English and French.

ORWH Published Supplement Funding Opportunity to Support Early- and Mid-Career Scientists

In fall 2023, the Research Supplements to Promote Reentry and Reintegration into Health-Related Research Careers added a new arm and has been reissued as NOT-OD-23-170 Research Supplements to Promote Reentry, Reintegration into, and Retraining in Health-Related Research Careers. The newly added Retraining and Retooling Program aims to provide support and protected time for an intensive, supervised, immersive experience in a laboratory, academic institution, government organization, nonprofit or charitable organization, publishing, and other forms of science-related industry to early-career and mid-career scientists. 

ORWH and NIAMS Announced New Program to Support Leadership in Women’s Health

In September 2023, the Team Science Leadership Scholars Program (LSP) in Women’s Health, embedded within the Accelerating Medicines Partnership® Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases (AMP®AIM), announced its inaugural cohort of awardees in a blog I co-wrote with Lindsey A. Criswell, M.D., M.P.H., D.Sc., director, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) and Susan K. Gregurick, Ph.D., director, NIH Office of Data Science Strategy (ODSS):

  • Sheila Angeles-Han, M.D., M.S.
  • April Lynn Barnado, M.D., MSCI (former BIRCWH scholar)
  • Monica Guma, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Sara McCoy, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Paula Sofia Ramos, M.D., M.Sc.
  • Kelly Ruggles, Ph.D., M.S.

ORWH Announced New Deputy Director

In October 2023, Vivian Ota Wang, Ph.D., was appointed the new deputy director of ORWH. Dr. Ota Wang comes to ORWH from ODSS at NIH. She has a background in genomics, psychology, ethics, and data science, and her expertise will help to further drive innovative ideas and solutions to advance and improve the health of women.  

White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research

On November 13, 2023, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden announced the first-ever White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research. The Initiative emphasizes women’s health research across government agencies and recognizes the importance of prioritizing women’s health research at the presidential level. On December 28, Initiative members submitted concrete recommendations that the Biden-Harris Administration can implement to improve research on women’s health, invest in women’s health research, and address health disparities and inequities. ORWH looks forward to partnering with all of the Initiative members and scientific, private-sector, and philanthropic communities to advance research on the health of women. 

NIH Pathways to Prevention (P2P) Released Panel Report: Identifying Risks and Interventions to Optimize Postpartum Health

ORWH co-sponsored the 2022 workshop “Identifying Risks and Interventions to Optimize Postpartum Health” with the Office of Disease Prevention, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Published in December 2023, the panel report identifies gaps in research on postpartum health in the United States and provides recommendations for moving the field forward. 

Fiscal Years 2021–2022 Women’s Health Report

In December 2023, ORWH released the Report of the Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health: Office of Research on Women's Health and NIH Support for Research on Women's Health for fiscal years (FY) 2021 and 2022. ORWH publishes this comprehensive report, also known as the Biennial Report, every 2 years since 2007 to detail NIH’s activities related to the health of women. As an NIH-wide collaboration, this Biennial Report highlights valuable contributions from NIH’s 27 institutes, centers, and offices (ICOs), for which I am thankful. I am also grateful to the members of the Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health (ACRWH) for their contributions to our work to advance the health of women. Please visit the ORWH website to read the Full Report on Research on Women’s Health: FY 2021-2022.  

New Funding Opportunities in 2023

ORWH issued several funding opportunities, with ICO partners, to advance research across many facets of women’s health, some of which are listed below.

Finally, ORWH held the 58th and 59th Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health (ACRWH) meetings in April and October 2023, respectively, as well as four Diverse Voices virtual talks. The annual Specialized Centers of Research Excellence on Sex Differences (SCORE) meeting was held in person in November 2023 and featured a keynote speech from Claire Pomeroy, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, titled “Core Values and Your Research Career: Health Equity and the Social Determinants of Health.” In addition, a SCORE funding opportunity is available with the next due date in August 2024. In December 2023, the Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) was held in person for the first time since 2019. Karen M. Freund, M.D., M.P.H., delivered the 2023 Ruth L. Kirschstein Memorial Lecture, and Dr. Criswell, NIAMS director, delivered the 2023 Legacy of Leadership Lecture. I encourage you to visit the ORWH Events webpage for links to all of the events ORWH hosted and/or participated in during 2023 to learn more about the exciting advancements being made in women’s health research by ORWH as well as other NIH ICOs, federal agencies, and community partners.

Looking Ahead in 2024

ORWH is preparing for a productive 2024. Below are a few highlights of upcoming ORWH-sponsored events. 

In the upcoming year, I look forward to collaborating and partnering across federal agencies and non-federal entities to drive innovation to advance women’s health research and promote the health of women. Please stay informed on our latest work by visiting the ORWH website (don’t forget to sign up for our quarterly publication, Women’s Health in Focus at NIH), liking us on Facebook, and following us on X, formerly known as Twitter. Happy New Year!