The UK medical research sector is uniting to support the introduction of dedicated sex and gender policies in biomedical research. This movement is evidenced by a collective endorsement from 29 organizations, including key research funders and academic publishers, in alignment with The George Institute for Global Health’s Medical Science Sex and Gender Equity (MESSAGE) project. These organizations contribute an estimated £4.1 billion per year to UK medical research.

This initiative addresses the absence of standardized sex and gender considerations in UK medical research. Historically, research has often neglected these factors, despite their known impact on health outcomes and treatment effectiveness. The move to introduce sex and gender policies is intended to correct biases in research that have predominantly focused on male subjects, leading to disparities in medical knowledge and patient care.

The MESSAGE project has been instrumental in identifying the gap in policy and practice, noting the absence of explicit sex and gender considerations among the UK’s major medical research funders and regulators. The UK’s approach contrasts with the more developed policies of other countries, such as Canada, the US, and European nations under Horizon Europe.

Over the past year, MESSAGE has worked with stakeholders including research funders, regulators, and academic publishers to co-design a sex and gender policy framework. The intention is to integrate these considerations throughout the research process, from study design and participant recruitment to data analysis and reporting.

Robyn Norton, Founding Director of The George Institute, Professor of Global Health at Imperial College
London and co-principal investigator on the MESSAGE project, said, “When we began this work in 2021
we were shocked to find that none of the UK’s 17 largest medical research funders, nor its four major
regulators, had policies in place to ensure that sex and gender dimensions are considered and addressed
in funded research projects. We are proud that many of these groups are now among those who are
committed to improving scientific rigour and equity in biomedical, health and care research. Today marks a huge advance for the UK research community. We are establishing a new gold standard
for sex and gender in science, which will help provide the most effective evidence to improve outcomes
for all patients.”

The upcoming year will see the launch of the MESSAGE framework, with further development of Policy Labs and educational resources to support the widespread adoption and implementation of these policies across the sector. The aim is to create a more inclusive and accurate body of medical research that better serves the entire population.

In essence, the support for sex and gender policies in medical research reflects a sector-wide commitment to improving the quality and inclusivity of research, with the goal of enhancing health outcomes for all individuals. The united stance by significant entities within the UK medical research community signals a significant shift towards acknowledging and addressing sex and gender considerations in medical science.

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