Female health has historically been underfunded and under researched, but the latest developments in femtech are aiming to restore the balance. Femtech World finds out all the figures you need to know about this booming industry…
Over the past decade or so, firms have been harnessing the power of technology to innovate in the world of female healthcare – and about time too.
Women have traditionally been overlooked when it comes to healthcare, in terms of both research and representation.
For example, around 65 per cent of healthcare employees are women, but they make up only 33 per cent of senior executives and 13 per cent of CEOs.
Male-dominated leadership, along with historical bias, has led to the overrepresentation of men in clinical trials, medical guidelines that fail to take women’s biology into account and a lack of innovation in women’s healthcare technologies.
And when we look at spending power, such male domination looks even more short-sighted; it is estimated that 90 per cent of women are the primary healthcare decision makers for their households, while also being responsible for 80 per cent of family healthcare spending. What’s more, women over age 19 also spend more per capita on healthcare than men.
Which is why the male dominated industry makes little sense, least of all financial – which is exactly the thinking behind the new generation of femtech businesses.
Let’s talk money
The femtech industry is predicted to be worth a massive $60bn by 2027, up from an already healthy $21.7m in 2020. Meanwhile, total global venture capital investments in femtech stood at $520m dollars last year.
However, the sex bias can even be seen in the world of venture capitalism. According to the Kauffman Foundation, private tech companies led by women achieve 35 per cent higher ROI than those led by men, but, in 2018, companies founded solely by women founders received only 2.2 per cent of VC funding. This could also be down to the inequality; women make up just nine per cent of venture capitalists working with start-ups.
While femtech is certainly a booming field, it pales into insignificance compared to some of its tech-based peers.
The market is made up of over 200 start-ups worldwide, 92 per cent of which are founded and led by women. In comparison, there are around 12,000 fintech, or financial tech, start-ups in operation today.
What’s the focus?
In the early days of femtech, the focus was largely on periods, fertility and pregnancy, and some of the biggest names in the field, such as menstrual tracking apps Clue and Flo, are still concentrated here.
In fact, according to Emergen Research, the key field has been focused around pregnancy and nursing. In the US, pregnancy and nursing care apps are still the major shareholder of the market, holding around 40.2 per cent of it in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, given this market share, reproductive health is the recipient of the bulk of the funding too; 25 per cent of femtech investors are spending their money in this sub-sector.
However, as interest grows, femtech start-ups are broadening their horizons and investigating a variety of issues and conditions that disproportionately affect women, such as osteoporosis, breast cancer, stroke and depression.
And there are already signs that the landscape is shifting; in 2021 so far, the top funded sector has been preventative and primary care, bringing in $668m, followed by fertility support with $330m, and the pregnancy and parenthood area standing at $316m.
The biggest deals
In the 12 months to August 2021, women’s heath digital health start-ups in the US raised $1.3bn, nearly doubling 2020’s full-year total of $774m.
One of the biggest deals in that period was the $110m in Series D funding raised by Maven Clinic, a virtual women’s and family healthcare provider, which revealed it planned to use the funding to expand into new patient populations and invest in products.
In September, Tia, a healthcare company combining a virtual care with a real-life presence, announced a $100m Series B funding round.
Combining virtual and in-person care for a variety of women’s health needs, Tia provides primary, mental and gynaecological care, as well as acupuncture, for women across the US.
In a statement, the company said it plans to use the capital to expand its care model to more than 100,000 women by 2023.
In the UK, innovative femtech firm Elvie raised £97m in a Series C funding round in September. The firm, which was established in 2013, focuses on creating products that revolutionise women’s lives, such as an award-winning app-connected Kegel trainer and the world’s first silent wearable breast pump, Elvie Pump.
Lawyers warn of discrimination risks around lack of menstrual health support in the workplace
Employers should consider proactively supporting women in managing menstruation at work, lawyers have argued
Employers should consider the potential discrimination risks around menstrual health in the workplace, lawyers have warned, as research shows that most women in the UK feel unsupported.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the majority of women in the UK do not feel a strong sense of support in their organisation in relation to their menstrual cycle.
Figures show women are more likely to feel supported by colleagues than by their employer or manager, with only one in 10 reporting that their organisation provides support for menstruation and menstrual health.
Annisa Khan, employment lawyer at Farrer & Co who has previously raised the alarm over the lack of practical measures to support women with their periods, told Femtech World that employers should be mindful of the legal risks related to managing menstruation.
“Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees based on sex, age, or disability,” she said.
“Employers should therefore consider the potential discrimination risks in relation to managing mensuration in the workplace and implement measures to reduce these risks.”
A lack of workplace period policies has been estimated to cost businesses over £6bn per year, as menstrual symptoms cause women to miss an average of 8.4 days per year due to lower productivity.
Khan said organisations should consider proactively supporting employees in managing menstruation at work by reviewing existing policies, including sickness absence and health and wellbeing policies, to ensure they effectively address menstrual-related concerns.
“Creating an open and supportive environment is crucial for employees to feel comfortable discussing periods at work,” she explained.
“This involves raising awareness among all staff, including senior-level managers and male colleagues, to foster an understanding of how colleagues may be affected by menstruation, the relevant policies and how to have open and empathetic conversations.
“Implementing practical measures is also essential to create a supportive environment. Practical steps can include having accessible bathroom facilities with sanitary bins, providing free period products to employees, offering additional breaks and providing a quiet space for rest.”
In line with CIPD’s findings, Khan said workplaces should also consider implementing more flexible working practices and giving women more breaks when needed.
“Employers should be open to employees adjusting their work pattern on the days they are experiencing menstruation symptoms by, for example, offering employees the opportunity to work from home.
“Additionally, they should consider the needs of employees with disabilities or those with medical conditions, and how they may be affected by managing mensuration at work.”
Heidi Watson, employment partner at Clyde & Co, said employers should ensure they avoid breaching discrimination laws when approaching issues like menstrual health.
“As awareness of menstrual issues such as endometriosis grows and as employees are more willing to discuss their symptoms at work, employers will need to consider whether employees are disabled under the legal definition and therefore entitled to protection from less favourable treatment and subject to the duty of the employer to make reasonable adjustments for them,” she told Femtech World.
“Employees may also be able to establish sex or age discrimination claims. We can expect more claims to come before the Employment Tribunal in the not too distant future, in a similar way as we have seen with cases involving menopause in recent years.
“Adopting a flexible approach to managing those with menstrual symptoms which are impacting their work, and creating an open and supportive culture around the issue, will help to reduce the risk of such claims being brought,” she added.
OB/GYN-founded vitamin company pledges US$10m to improve women’s health research
Perelel aims to close the divide on women’s reproductive health research and improve access to nutritional support
The US OB/GYN-founded vitamin company Perelel has pledged US$10m to Magee-Womens Research Institute and Good+ Foundation to fund women’s health research and address gaps in maternal healthcare.
The vitamin company said the US$10m would be distributed as both in-kind product donations and funding grants through 2027 focused on advancing women’s reproductive health.
Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest US research foundation focused exclusively on women’s health, reproductive biology and infant research and care.
Good+Foundation is a national nonprofit working to dismantle multi-generational poverty by pairing tangible goods with innovative services for under-resourced individuals.
“As the only female OB/GYN-founded women’s vitamin company, Perelel is committed to ensuring that all women have access to medically backed care,” said Victoria Thain Gioia, co-founder and co-CEO of Perelel.
“This is why we are devoted to furthering women’s research in partnership with Magee-Womens Research Institute and creating more equity in the way underserved communities receive critical prenatal micronutrients that would otherwise be inaccessible thanks to Good+Foundation.”
Research shows that medical studies have historically excluded female participants and data have been collected from males and generalised to females.
The exclusion of women of “childbearing potential” from clinical research studies has meant that women’s diseases are often missed, misdiagnosed or remain a total mystery.
Alex Taylor, co-founder and co-CEO and of Perelel, said: “We recognise how wildly complex women’s bodies are — bodies that have historically been oversimplified, objectified and shamefully under-researched in medicine.
“Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as ’12 essential nutrients.’ In founding Perelel, we hope to shine a light on how dynamic our bodies are by supporting them with targeted solutions made by the doctors and experts who know best.
“Core to what we stand for is the need to keep fighting for our fundamental rights and help close the women’s health research gap and improve body literacy.”
Perelel’s pledge comes at a time of intensified focus on women’s health as efforts start to reach new levels, including the White House, after President Joe Biden announced the first-ever initiative on Women’s Health Research in 2023.
“It is critical that there is more in-depth medical research done to support women at every hormonal life stage,” said Michael Annichine, CEO at Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation.
“Perelel has committed to a cash donation to further advance research into women’s reproductive health and to ensure that this research is made more accessible to doctors everywhere.”
New treatment could ‘disrupt’ growth of breast cancer tumours
A new type of immunotherapy could lead to pioneering treatment for breast cancer
A breakthrough injection could “disrupt” the growth of breast cancer tumours, paving the way for a pioneering new treatment.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with one woman diagnosed every 10 minutes. Around 55,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and 11,500 die from the disease each year.
Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research have found that a new type of immunotherapy that targets non-cancer cells could help prevent the growth and spread of breast cancer tumours.
The discovery, published in The Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer, has found that an immunotherapy approach targeting a protein, called endosialin, disrupts the tumour’s blood supply and, as a result, can hinder its growth and spread.
Unlike most cancer treatments, this innovative treatment does not target cancer cells directly but attacks the cells that support the disease instead.
Researchers used a type of immunotherapy called CAR-T therapy, which involves removing a patient’s healthy immune cells and genetically modifying them to attack specific targets.
CAR-T therapies are already being used to treat some blood cancers, and scientists are trying to find ways to make them effective for other types of cancer, including breast cancer.
However, CAR-T cell therapy does not always work on tumours because their environment suppresses the immune response, and it can also be challenging to find specific features on the breast cancer cells to target.
To work around these challenges, the team directed the CAR-T cells to cells surrounding the tumour’s blood supply that make the endosialin protein, rather than actual cancer cells. In experiments in mice, scientists found that targeting endosialin successfully reduced the breast cancer’s growth and spread.
The team, based at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), also tested the treatment on lung cancer tumours in mice and saw similarly successful results, suggesting patients with other types of cancer could benefit from this new treatment too.
In addition, researchers found that the CAR-T therapy did not affect cells without endosialin, indicating this could work as a cancer-specific treatment with potentially fewer side effects for patients.
“This is the very first study that demonstrates the effectiveness of using endosialin-directed CAR-T cells to reduce breast cancer tumour growth and spread,” said Dr Frances Turrell, study co-leader and postdoctoral training fellow in the division of breast cancer research at the Institute of Cancer Research.
“Immunotherapy has had limited success in treating breast cancer but by targeting the cells that support the tumour and help it to survive, rather than the cancer cells directly, we’ve found a promising way to overcome the challenges posed by the tumour environment and develop a more effective and targeted treatment for breast cancer.
“We could not have done this project without funding to the Molecular Cell Biology group from Breast Cancer Now and we hope that further research will help translate these findings into targeted therapies for breast cancer patients.”
Dr Simon Vincent, director of research, support and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This exciting research could lead to much-needed targeted treatments for people with breast cancer, and with one person dying from breast cancer every 45 minutes in the UK, new treatments like these are urgently needed.
“Now we know that the treatment works in principle in mice, Breast Cancer Now researchers can continue to develop this immunotherapy to make it suitable for people, as well as to understand the full effect it could have and who it may benefit the most.”
- Lawyers warn of discrimination risks around lack of menstrual health support in the workplace
- OB/GYN-founded vitamin company pledges US$10m to improve women’s health research
- New treatment could ‘disrupt’ growth of breast cancer tumours
- The slippery slope of presumed consent in post-humous reproductive health cases
- Women’s health content censored and blocked on social media
Receive updates from Femtech World
- News3 weeks ago
Study identifies why some breast cancers become resistant to hormone therapy
- News7 days ago
Menopause start-up raises US$3.3m to expand digital health platform
- News2 weeks ago
More women likely to have died due to Scotland cervical cancer screening error, says lawyer
- Insight1 day ago
The slippery slope of presumed consent in post-humous reproductive health cases
- News3 weeks ago
Investment fund backs innovation hub to raise awareness of overlooked sexual health conditions
- News1 week ago
Venture capital firm closes US$14.5m fund to invest in solutions for underserved populations
- Fertility3 weeks ago
How we can address the gender imbalance in fertility testing
- News7 days ago
NIH grants US$2.3m to evaluate blood pressure monitor during pregnancy