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Femtech by numbers – the rise of women’s health innovation

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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.

In business

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.

However, a handful of dedicated femtech support programmes have been launched in the past two years, such as Station F in France, AXA Femtech Accelerator and the Tech4Eva accelerator in Switzerland.

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.

 

 

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Women with endometriosis face fourfold higher risk of ovarian cancer, study finds

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The risk of developing ovarian cancer could jump about fourfold among women with endometriosis compared with women without the condition, a new study has found.

A landmark study from researchers at the University of Utah and Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine found that women with severe endometriosis are 10 times more likely to get ovarian cancer compared to women who do not have the disease.

Prior studies have shown a causal connection between endometriosis and ovarian cancer but in using the Utah Population Database, a repository of linked health records housed at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, investigators were able to analyse the incidence rates of different types of endometriosis and subtypes of ovarian cancer for the first time.

Their research, which included a cohort of over 78,000 women with endometriosis, found that women with severe forms — either deep infiltrating endometriosis, ovarian endometriomas or both — have an overall ovarian cancer risk that’s “markedly increased,” at about 9.7 times higher, relative to women without endometriosis.

Women with deep infiltrating endometriosis, ovarian endometriomas or both, on the other hand, appear to face nearly 19 times the risk of type I ovarian cancer, which tends to grow more slowly, compared with women without endometriosis, according to the study.

In their calculations, researchers also found that women with any kind of endometriosis have a 4.2-fold risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to those who do not.

“These are really important findings,” said Jennifer Doherty, investigator and professor of the population health sciences department at the University of Utah.

“This impacts clinical care for individuals with severe endometriosis, since they would benefit from counselling about ovarian cancer risk and prevention.

“This research will also lead to further studies to understand the mechanisms through which specific types of endometriosis cause different types of ovarian cancer.”

However, women with endometriosis should not panic about the findings, researchers noted, because ovarian cancer itself is still rare. About 1.1 per cent of US women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“Because of the rarity of ovarian cancer, the association with endometriosis only increased the number of cancer cases by 10 to 20 per 10,000 women,” Karen Schliep, senior author of the study and an associate professor in the Division of Public Health at the University of Utah School of Medicine, told CNN.

“We would not recommend, at this point, any change in clinical care or policy. The best way of preventing ovarian cancer is still the recommendation of exercise, not smoking and limiting alcohol.”

Women with endometriosis could pursue surgeries, such as hysterectomies or removal of the ovaries, investigators said. However, since these are invasive procedures, more research is needed to know if these are the right measures, they concluded.

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Study exposes gaps in menstrual health education in English schools

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A new study has revealed significant inadequacies in menstrual health education provision in English schools.

New research, led by the University of Bristol and Anglia Ruskin University, has highlighted a lack of practical information being offered, pupils being taught too late, and attitudes that perpetuate stigma across English schools.

Ten per cent of young women surveyed in the study, which sought to understand what and how menstrual health education information was delivered in English schools, did not receive or remember receiving any menstrual health education. Of those pupils who did, up to one in five did not receive education until after they had started their period.

Researchers surveyed 140 young women aged 18-24, who had attended either a private or state-funded primary and secondary school, on their menstrual health education. Of these, 99.3 per cent had experienced menstruation.

Participants were asked to take part in online surveys and in-depth interviews to share their experiences including what and how information was provided at school and reflect on their thoughts and feelings about their education.

From the survey results, researchers found lessons focussed on biological content with a lack of practical information needed to help students manage menstruation and menstrual health, with nearly seven in ten participants having reportedly received no practical information. None of the participants were taught about menstrual health conditions and only 3.2 per cent learnt about abnormal symptoms.

Serious long-term impacts were reported, as several participants put off seeking medical attention for debilitating symptoms because they thought their pain was normal, only to be later diagnosed with conditions such as endometriosis.

Overall, participants left school lacking basic knowledge and feeling ill-equipped with 62.4 per cent rating their education as “poor” or “very poor” in preparing them for managing menstruation.

In extreme cases, some were so unprepared that when they started their periods, they thought they were ill or even dying.

While schools were seen as an important source of information, many participants admitted that they had to rely on other sources, particularly the internet and social media.

Poppy Taylor, PhD researcher in population health sciences at the University of Bristol, and corresponding author, said: “Given the evidence that girls are starting their periods at ever-younger ages, there are concerns this will be too late for an increasing number of people. Denying young people with information about their bodies risks significant long-term harm.

“Our research provides strong evidence that the education system has been failing young girls and people who menstruate. We were shocked and disappointed, but sadly not surprised, with our findings.”

Globally, menstrual health is a key issue for gender equality. When menstrual needs are unmet, it can create barriers to education and employment, pose long-term health risks and threaten human rights.

Evidence suggests that persistent stigma and lack of public understanding about menstruation is preventing such needs from being met in the UK.

“Our findings suggest that for many young people, the menstrual health education they received failed to prepare them physically, mentally, or socially for their first period,” Taylor explained.

“We recommend that menstrual health education is improved through the delivery of earlier, more inclusive lessons with more practical content to ensure all young people are equipped to manage their menstrual health in a supportive environment.

“To support the UK government’s target of eradicating period stigma and poverty by 2030, universally accessible and comprehensive menstrual health education must be prioritised.”

The authors acknowledged that the reported experiences in the study, particularly from older participants, may not reflect current practices.

Due to the small sample size, they said, further research is needed to explore the experiences of students who are currently in the schooling system and to understand whether and how practices have changed.

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Maternal mental health start-up bags US$10.9m in series A funding

Seven Starling aims to help women navigate critical periods in their lives with evidence-based mental health support

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The US start-up Seven Starling has secured US$10.9m in series A funding to address unmet needs in women’s mental health.

More than 90 per cent of women do not seek help for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders due to high barriers including a shortage of therapists, limited in-network coverage and mental health stigma.

These conditions affect one in five women during the motherhood journey, yet only 20 per cent are screened for mental health issues, and 75 per cent of those who need treatment do not receive it.

Seven Starling aims to address these challenges by making its services accessible through its in-network coverage, integrated group therapy model, and partnerships with referring providers to make the process of getting started easier for patients.

The investment round, led by RH Capital, is hoped to expand access to essential mental health services for women going through critical periods, such as infertility, miscarriage and loss, pregnancy, postpartum and motherhood.

“We are thrilled to have successfully raised this round of funding, which will allow us to expand our reach and help more women who need support during critical life transitions,” said Tina Beilinson Keshani, co-founder and CEO of Seven Starling.

“This investment is a testament to the demand for a dedicated women’s mental health solution and our commitment to providing accessible, high-quality care. With the new funding, we will continue to successfully reduce the stigma around women’s mental health and ensure that every woman has access to the care she needs, when she needs it.”

The capital raised from this round, Keshani said, would be used to “fuel” national expansion, partnering with Medicaid plans, and developing innovative technology to further integrate with healthcare partners.

Alice Zheng, principal at RH Capital, said: “We are proud to partner with Seven Starling in this new chapter to expand access to maternal mental healthcare, an area of significant need.

“We are excited by the comprehensive and scalable offerings, including group therapy to expand access. As a recent mum of two myself, I have been shocked by the lack of perinatal mental health support available relative to need and am thankful to see Seven Starling filling that gap.”

Mar Hershenson, founder of Pear VC, added: “Seven Starling is addressing a huge problem not just around motherhood but the entire female lifespace from adolescence to menopause.

“Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, but lack a tailored solution designed to meet their unique needs. Pear has partnered with Seven Starling since day one and we are excited to double down on them.”

Kelly Ernst, March of Dimes SVP, chief impact officer, said mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, are among the most common complications for women during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

“However, many do not receive treatment they desperately need, which can lead to long lasting clinical, social, and economic consequences,” she explained.

“When these conditions are effectively treated and managed, everyone benefits. We’re proud to be investors in Seven Starling and look forward to seeing how their innovative and comprehensive approach improves the mental healthcare needs of women across the country.”

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