SWORD Health has launched Bloom, a physical therapy product aimed at women struggling with pelvic pain
Bloom is a clinical-grade digital solution aimed at women’s physical health issues. It will help to provide non-invasive care for neglected health issues such as pelvic pain or postpartum recovery. Worldwide, The rates of chronic pelvic pain for women of childbearing age range from 14 per cent to 32 per cent globally.
It includes a sensor that will measure the pressure and stamina of a person’s pelvic floor while connecting to an app so that users can receive feedback on their exercises. Patients will then be paired with a pelvic health specialist who will guide them through exercises or tailor the program to suit their needs.
It is hoped that Bloom will help to reduce chronic pain and dysfunction in turn decreasing the need for painkillers or invasive options, like surgery.
Bloom and pelvic pain
Marta Cardeano, general manager of Bloom said: “I’ve suffered many years with pelvic pain, and it’s now an honour to build this solution that will help thousands of women across the world. Just like me, many women simply don’t know there are solutions that can help free them from pain.
We are here to support the female population with effective and non-invasive solutions to improve their quality of life. Bloom technology is providing a new way for women to address their pelvic disorders from the privacy and convenience of their homes.”
Virgilio Bento, CEO of SWORD Health said: “Women’s physical health has been an overlooked problem in healthcare for decades. Right now, one in every four women suffers from pelvic disorders, without being able to access a solution that is both clinically effective and convenient.
That’s why we’ve decided to launch Bloom: we believe every woman should be able to have access to the best care and not suffer in silence. After developing the new gold standard of care for back and joint pain, Bloom is our next step towards fulfilling our mission to free two billion people from pain”.
The biomedical engineer redefining menopause support through technology
Nitya Dintakurti made it her mission to develop tools to help women navigate and better understand menopause
Although virtually all women experience menopause, as a natural part of biological ageing, it remains a highly stigmatised topic.
The stigma around this transition not only impacts women’s wellbeing and quality of life, but also puts their long-term health at risk.
In countries like India, where the average age of menopause is around five years lower than the global average of 51, women are more likely to experience osteoporosis and heart attacks.
Nitya Dintakurti learned about this when she saw her mum hiding her menopause symptoms and suffering in silence.
Armed with a degree in biomedical engineering, she made it her mission to develop technologies to help women like her mum navigate midlife. She tells us her story below.
Hi Nitya, could you tell us a bit more about your background?
I was born and brought up in India. I studied biomedical engineering at King’s College London and started Ru Medical right after I graduated in June 2021.
What inspired you to create Ru Medical?
I wanted to create something making real impact on women by solving real unmet clinical need.
When I saw my own mum going through menopause with zero support and understanding, it pushed me to create solutions in this space and help women with this transition is their life.
How would you describe Ru Medical in a few words?
Ru Medical’s mission is to build simple and effective technologies for menopausal women.
Our platform, Unpause, aims to help women understand their menopausal journey better while our Coolzen medical device is designed to help them manage hot flashes.
What makes Ru Medical different?
Our approach to creating solutions has always been driven by real women who are suffering on a day-to-day basis. Every product has been built in collaboration with thousands of women and not in isolation making all our solutions extremely user-friendly and useful.
Women’s health comes with a lot of stigma. How has this impacted you as a founder?
It is definitely not the easiest field since women are quite hesitant to discuss their struggles openly. Securing funding to grow the company proved quite challenging to me.
What obstacles have you encountered on this journey?
The two obstacles I have faced were the lack of funding for first-time founders like myself – especially raising money for a hardware company – and manoeuvring hiring our first employees.
What lessons have you learned?
I have learnt hard lessons on product development, one of them being that hardware development takes time.
Where are you with Ru Medical now?
We have just launched online and will start shipping this month. We are shipping in UK and India and hoping to scale in these geographies through this year.
Where do you see the company in the future?
I see Ru Medical being the go-to menopause company for women looking for non-invasive solutions to various symptoms they may face during this transitional period in their life.
At a grander scale, we want to cater to women in different parts of their life, be in menstruation, pregnancy or menopause.
“I had no idea how to set up a company”- the founder tackling the burden of preterm birth
For me, it is remarkable how much we still don’t know about the event that generates every single human life, says Sabrina Badir
An estimated 13.4 million babies were born pre-term in 2020, with nearly one million dying from preterm complications. Sabrina Badir, founder and CEO of Pregnolia, is on a mission to change that.
The medical device she’s developed, the result of years of academic research at ETH Zürich and University Hospital Zürich, allows healthcare providers to measure the stiffness of the cervix to identify women at risk for premature birth.
Her innovation is not just about supporting gynaecologists in making key decisions, but about addressing the health and economic challenge of preterm birth worldwide. She tells us all about it below.
Hi Sabrina, could you tell us a bit more about your background?
I am a biomechanical engineer from ETH Zurich (Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) in Switzerland. During my PhD at the Institute for Mechanical System my colleagues and I from ETH and University Hospital Zurich developed a device to measure cervical stiffness to support the risk assessment of premature birth. After completing this research project, I translated our prototype into a medical device and founded Pregnolia.
What inspired you to create Pregnolia?
The fact that I became an entrepreneur just happened. When I had completed my doctoral thesis, I was faced with the question of how to proceed with my research project. At the time, I attended a project management course and the course instructor said: “That’s very interesting, what you’ve done there. Why don’t you set up a company?”
I was immediately hooked. But I had no idea how to set up a company. I then applied for the Pioneer Fellowship at ETH Zurich, where you learn how to turn research results into a potential product. I was accepted and that’s how Pregnolia was born. Now, seven years later, the first Pregnolia measuring devices are in doctors’ practice and clinics.
When I founded Pregnolia in 2016, people weren’t talking about women’s health yet. Something that was very close to my heart even before the founding and where I wanted to actively make a difference. And now seeing this topic gaining more and more importance encourages me even more to have made the right decision and to help millions of mothers and their babies around the world.
How would you describe Pregnolia in a few words?
Pregnolia is a medtech company focused on preterm birth detection. We have developed a CE-marked and patented measurement device to assess the stiffness of the cervix which serves as a crucial indicator for estimating the risk of preterm birth.
Our product, the Pregnolia System, consists of a control unit and a probe. The probe is inserted into the vagina with the help of a speculum and the probe head is placed on the cervix. The control unit creates a vacuum, which sucks the tissue of the cervix up to the probe by a maximum of four millimetres. The measurement takes just a few seconds and at the end of the measurement, the control unit displays a value in millibars.
The lower this value is, the less vacuum was needed to displace the tissue up to four millimetres, which means the softer the tissue is. A soft cervix in combination with other clinical factors can be an indicator of a premature birth, so based on the result on the display, the doctor can take immediate clinical actions to delay or prevent the baby from being born too early.
What makes Pregnolia different?
The Pregnolia System is the world’s first patented and CE-marked medical device to measure cervical stiffness. Existing proof-of-concept data confirm that cervical stiffness correlates with earlier births and the diagnostic capabilities are significantly better than the cervical length measured by ultrasound, which is the golden standard in preterm birth diagnosis today.
Our device offers immediate results and enables healthcare professionals to take prompt interventions. Our technology is scalable, highly deployable, including in locations with low levels of material and human resources and aims to create a pregnancy care platform that can be used at different stages in pregnancy and beyond.
Women’s health comes with a lot of stigma. How has this impacted you as a founder?
The awareness around women’s health has increased significantly in recent years and is perceived as a trend, but little has changed behind the scenes.
With 13.4 million premature babies born each year, tackling the unmet need for accurate premature births is a global problem. The 15th World Prematurity Day on November 15, 2023 drew attention to the ongoing fight against preterm births and also the latest WHO report is a reminder that preterm birth rates have not fallen significantly over the past decade.
The alarming statistics that make preterm birth the second leading cause of infant deaths worldwide emphasises the urgency to improve preterm birth detection and intervention. However, bringing new solutions to market is a lengthy process.
For me, it is still remarkable, how much we still don’t know about the event that generates every single human life and that basic understanding of pregnancy itself is full of gaping scientific holes and mysteries.
This means we first have to conduct basic research and collect sufficient data, because the results of clinical trials are central in order to gain the interest and trust of the professional community. But carrying out investigations takes a lot of time and is costly. Therefore, external funding is important.
However, venture capitalists still prefer to invest in areas they are familiar with and this is particularly challenging when it comes to fundraising. VCs often mistakenly consider the pregnancy market a niche market, a view that does not do justice to the true dynamics of the market.
There is a scepticism about the potential return of investment from women’s health companies. This is because a) there have not been many company sales (exits) in women’s health yet because the industry is relatively new – but they do exist, for example the deal between Organon and Alydia, and b) in the medtech industry, it is well known that companies have to achieve double-digit million-dollar revenues before they are even considered as portfolio assets by potential industry giants such as J&J.
This overlooks the fact that in the coming years the demand for assets in women’s health will be significantly greater than the available products! And this, of course, has an impact on the valuation of a deal and the timing of when a deal is even struck. So, you have to become quite creative to raise the necessary funds and luckily, so far, we have done a good job.
What obstacles have you encountered on this journey?
In addition to the difficulties associated with collecting clinical data during pregnancy and the fundraising, as mentioned before, there were other challenges on our journey.
We went through an extensive start-up phase, during which we transformed the prototype into a medical device and we had to navigate the complex landscape of regulatory approval procedures. It took four years for the device to receive CE certification – a milestone achieved amidst the turmoil of the Covid pandemic.
Especially adapting to the dynamic changes in the medical device industry became an enduring aspect of our journey. For example, the lack of an institutional agreement with the European Union and the impact of the new EU Medical Devices Regulation on Swiss companies that export medical devices also presented hurdles.
Nevertheless, we successfully overcame these obstacles, which culminated in the successful completion of MDR certification in October of this year.
What lessons have you learned?
I have learned a lot over the last few years and I am still learning. One lesson was realising how important it is to actively listen to others and be open to their perspectives. Based on all information and feedback you receive you can draw conclusions and make your own decisions.
It takes visionary thinking to bring a breakthrough idea to market and not everyone immediately understands and agrees with your idea when they first hear it. But being patient and sticking to my convictions eventually led to others following my lead.
Networking has also been invaluable on my journey so far. Even today, it still takes me courage and sometimes a bit of cheek to approach important or even famous people, but building meaningful connections opens doors to opportunities and insights that may not have been possible otherwise.
Last but not least, an open and transparent communication has proven its worth in order to pull together in the same direction. In my opinion, a clear statement of goals and expectations not only promotes understanding and trust between your employees, but also with other stakeholders such as customers, investors and other interest groups.
Where are you with Pregnolia now?
In November we successfully closed our funding round of CHF2.2m in funding despite the difficult market environment. I am grateful to our generous investors for their commitment as it is a sign of their trust in our hard work.
We will use the new funds to cover the costs of the ongoing clinical trials currently being conducted in Europe, where extensive data is being collected to develop actionable clinical guidance for prediction and diagnosis of preterm birth.
This will allow us to eventually transform our measuring device into a risk assessment device that directly indicates a pregnant woman’s risk for preterm birth.
Where do you see the company in the future?
My vision for the future of Pregnolia is to become the new standard for detecting premature birth, and wouldn’t it be great to have a Pregnolia System next to the ultrasound machine in every gynaecologist’s practice?
My aim is to help reduce the preterm birth rate, reduce the emotional and financial burden as well as to minimise overtreatment. I truly believe that our medical device has the potential for widespread use and will improve pregnancy care worldwide as it requires few resources and training.
Personally, I also want to be a role model and motivate other entrepreneurs to tackle unmet needs in pregnancy care and women’s health in general. With the significant mass, we will also generate the success stories and by that attract more investors investing in women’s health.
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“Women feel like they are the problem”- the founder bridging the gap in menopause care
Meet the Canadian entrepreneur on a mission to redefine menopause care
Menopause can be a critical turning point for a woman’s health, both physical and mental.
Studies show that the stigma surrounding this life stage can not only impact women’s quality of life but also put their long-term health at risk. In Canada alone, more than 10 million women are currently going through the menopause.
Angela Johnson was one of them. Despite entering perimenopause at the age of 36, it took her four years to find a doctor specialised in menopause care. “I know if I hadn’t found that doctor, my career and personal life would have profoundly suffered,” she says.
Surprised by the unpredictability of this life stage and frustrated by the lack of support, Angela embarked on a journey of discovery and went on to establish sanoLiving, Canada’s first clinically backed virtual health centre for women, delivering personalised, evidence-based health and wellness services for midlife women.
Here, the Canadian entrepreneur and former IBM executive tells Femtech World why opening up the conversation around menopause could not only help women access care but empower them to live the life they envisioned for themselves.
Hi Angela, could you tell us a bit more about your background?
The first thing you should know about me and my background is that I’m dedicated to revolutionising women’s health and advocating for midlife women in the workplace. I want to see women stay in their careers they worked hard and fought for because this is a story I know all too well.
For nearly 22 years, I was an executive at IBM, working with a wide variety of global Fortune 500 clients, proposing and developing business solutions that improved their innovation, competitiveness and profitability. Towards the end of my tenure in this role, I focused on IBM global business, working directly with IBM Corporation’s Chief Innovation Officer.
In 2009, I founded my first company, Medical Confidence Inc. (now a CloudMD company), inspired by my sister, who was struggling with a rare neurological condition and was overwhelmed by the complexity of the medical system. This experience exposed a clear need for a simpler, more effective way to navigate the health system, improving continuity of care and better outcomes.
I founded Medical Confidence to help Canadians obtain timely access to the ideal care within the public health system. Today, 82 per cent of Canadian life and health insurance companies use Medical Confidence to reduce wait times by an average of 220 days and recovery times by 180 days.
Today, I am the CEO and co-founder of sanoLiving, Canada’s first coast-to-coast clinical virtual health center, specialising in delivering personalised, evidence-based health and wellness services.
What inspired you to create sanoLiving?
While I was an executive at IBM and founding my first company, Medical Confidence, I was experiencing something that every woman will go through in her lifetime – menopause. Like many women around the world, in the careers that they worked incredibly hard to secure, my symptoms were debilitating and affecting not only my personal life but my professional life at work.
I entered perimenopause at the age of 36, and my symptoms were so severe that they turned my life upside down. It wasn’t until I was 40 that I found a doctor experienced in menopause symptom management.
I know if I hadn’t found that doctor, my career and personal life would have profoundly suffered. This initial treatment plan improved my overall wellbeing for a little bit, only to have my symptoms return with post-menopausal heightened intensity later.
Despite being ahead of the rest of the world on so many other issues, Canada is still very much behind other countries regarding menopause care. Beyond covering prescription reimbursement, insurers and employers do not offer menopause care and navigation as part of their benefits packages for something all women and non-binary individuals collectively experience eventually in their careers.
All of this led me to create sanoLiving. I wanted to provide a safe space for all individuals born with a female reproductive system that has 24/7 support, is completely judgment-free, and ensures that they get access to the care they need.
How would you describe sanoLiving in a few words?
Simply put, sanoLiving is a health platform dedicated to transforming women’s, transgender males and non-binary individuals’ healthcare, especially during midlife. Our flagship service, sanoMidLife, offers personalised, evidence-based wellness services.
It’s not just about providing care; it’s about empowering women, transgender males and non-binary individuals, ensuring that their unique health needs are no longer overlooked or underserved.
What makes sanoLiving different?
sanoLiving sets itself apart as a virtual, AI-driven health platform developed and operated by seasoned multidisciplinary clinicians and executives. Our AI virtual assistant, Sano, utilises advanced natural language processing, personalised by our clinical team. This ensures each sanoMidLife client receives a personalised healthcare experience.
Sano expertly guides clients through menopause assessments, educates them about symptoms and wellness, schedules appointments, and keeps them motivated with customised content. As well as providing proposed care plans for our sanoMidLife clinical team to review. With our innovative AI, we’re making high-quality healthcare more affordable and accessible.
Another uniqueness is our dedicated team of multidisciplinary clinicians who focus on individualised care. This approach offers a continuity of care and trust that is rare in virtual platforms.
For women, transgender males and non-binary individuals exploring menopause hormone therapy, building rapport with a consistent familiar healthcare team is invaluable, a stark contrast to the impersonal nature of meeting a new online clinician each time.
A lot of the work that you do involves raising awareness around menopause. How has the lack of awareness around this topic impacted women historically?
One only needs to look at the data about women and menopause in the workplace to see how greatly women have been impacted historically by the lack of awareness and government policies.
A Lean In and McKinsey study revealed that two women depart from their companies for every woman promoted to the director level. Menopause Foundation of Canada released a study in October that showed menopause-related absences cost the Canadian economy CAD$3.5bn annually. In the US, that number looks more like US$26.6bn, according to a Mayo Clinic study.
There is a pressing need to address the dismissed health challenges that women encounter during the 20+ years of perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
In Canada, nearly half of our workforce are women, and 100 per cent of those women will experience the menopause transition at some point in their careers. Of these women, 95 per cent will experience symptoms, three in four will report symptoms impacting their daily life and ability to function, and 10 per cent will take a leave of absence or leave the workplace entirely as a result of these symptoms.
How has this lack of awareness impacted you as a founder in the menopause space?
While a lack of awareness exists, the good news is that safe, clinically validated treatments are available. The problem is very few individuals and health practitioners know these treatments exist. And that makes our job at sanoLiving trickier.
We need to find and work with trained and experienced clinicians in women’s midlife health. Finding these clinicians and connecting women to them to get the care they need is exponentially harder than if we were treating other health conditions that are more accepted and talked about in society.
Did you know that a Social Science & Medicine study found that 58 per cent of analysed medical textbooks used worldwide had no reference to menopause? Think about that for a second. There’s also a shocking lack of education and minimal training in medical school on menopause and women’s midlife health, which results in many doctors being ill-equipped to offer effective treatments.
Each year, more than 300,000 Canadian women aged 40-60 will leave their full-time careers due to menopause symptoms, resulting in the most common and extended medical leaves (mental health, chronic pain, sleep disorder), especially among women over 45.
Providing quality menopause health services will not only reduce these prolonged absences but also reduce the increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, genitourinary syndrome of menopause and mental illness.
What obstacles have you encountered?
We’re actively addressing diversity within our team, advisory board, and clinician group. Prioritising this from the outset, we’re engaging with women of colour, indigenous women, and the transgender and non-binary community to ensure their voices are as prominent as ours in shaping sanoLiving.
Recognising Canada’s vast rural areas, which have limited access to health services such as mammograms and pelvic floor exams, we actively seek representatives from these communities to address the lack of easy access to women’s health services.
Another obstacle we have faced is finding clinicians with the experience and training in treating menopause. Prior to 2002, 40 per cent of women were taking hormone therapy. Following the release of a study by the Women’s Health Institute that was poorly interpreted to lead women and clinicians to believe that hormone therapy was unsafe, that number dropped significantly.
Overnight, prescriptions and access to treatments were turned off entirely. That deep-rooted fear created by that interpretation? It still exists in clinicians today, but what we’re not talking about is that while hormone therapy does carry some added risk for blood clots, stroke and breast cancer, these risks are very small.
Lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, alcohol intake and weight gain after menopause can also have an impact on your risk of developing breast cancer, but no one is talking about that.
Another significant challenge we face is the scarcity of clinicians with expertise in menopause, a specialty that witnessed a downturn post-2002 due to misinterpretations of “the” Women’s Health Institute study. These misconceptions continue to influence clinicians’ perceptions of hormone therapy, often neglecting its relatively minor risks compared to lifestyle factors.
I recently attended the Canadian Menopause Society Conference, the first since the pandemic. Though it set a record for attendance, the number of attendees was modest compared to the 48,000 general practitioners and nearly 700 gynecologists in Canada. This highlights the need for broader engagement and training in this crucial area.
Lastly, fundraising for our femtech company in its seed stage is a challenge shared by many female founders, particularly in the current economic climate.
As you well know, femtech, as a sector, receives a disproportionately small amount of funding, including government non-dilutive funds. This scenario necessitates a creative and compelling approach in showcasing our project’s potential and value to attract the essential investment needed for growth and development.
What were some of the lessons you have learned on this journey?
The first lesson I learned is that I did not realise how hard it is to get people to act. You start having conversations with decision-makers and clinicians, and the discussion always seems to lead to policies and accommodations. That the solution is government and workplace policies and accommodations.
No one seems to default to what impact it would have if we started by providing women with the care and access to clinicians they need. And if they do, by chance, bring up access to care, historically, there is a serious lack of follow-through when it comes to actually providing women with the midlife health services that they need.
Current champions of menopause in the Canadian workplace are focused on limited education, policies and accommodations, not access to care. Many women have shared with me that they almost feel like they’re to blame when they learn about these initiatives. Like they are the problem. Think about the word accommodation – the word itself makes us feel like we’re the problem; something needs to be done about our problem.
We need to speak in a supportive language that will empower women while giving them the necessary tools. Yes, some will need accommodations, but why are we talking about accommodations and policy first rather than access to care?
My biggest fear is that if we stop at accommodations and policies, women are going to revert underground even further and not talk about their symptoms or needs. This will be out of fear that if they do, they will be overlooked for opportunities for career advancement. And sadly, their fear will be well-rooted.
I am building sanoLiving to give women access to care so that they can return to the life they envisioned for themselves. The life they designed for themselves. That’s my biggest drum that I have picked up on this journey and that I’m trying to beat. And if I’m going to go down with something on my tombstone, that’s what I want it to be.
How do you think we could start opening up the conversation around menopause and educating people on this?
By providing our AI assistant, “Sano” free to women, transgender males and non-binary individuals, we’re creating a confidential, safe no-judgement environment for them to ask questions and receive accurate, clinically validated answers. We are saving them from the hassle and time of spending hours sifting through online information, which can often be misleading.
Our goal is to empower them with trustworthy information, enabling them to advocate for their health. This is our way of opening up the conversation so that they are equipped to have an in-depth discussion with their clinician. And when their clinician refuses to do their blood work because they’re afraid there will be findings they won’t know what to do with, they’ll know that is unacceptable. And I know women who are experiencing this exact scenario right now.
Educated and empowered women and individuals are a powerful force. When one woman gains access to scientifically-backed information about menopause or midlife health and shares it within her social circles, the impact multiplies.
There’s a strong, informal network among women where we exchange information and experiences. By feeding this network with credible knowledge, we’re helping individuals and fostering a broader, community-wide understanding of menopause.
How about accelerating innovation in the menopause space?
First and foremost, the work Femtech World is doing right now by sharing stories about companies focusing on women’s health technology is helping to accelerate innovation. Many of the companies featured on Femtech World have innovations and products we could collaborate on to make a more significant impact.
Bringing awareness to these companies helps us connect, and we can explore how integrating and partnering with each other can enable us to do even more.
Lastly, I want to point out that we are not in our little silos as countries. Many countries around the world, such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the US, have made strides in ensuring women can get access to the care they need for their midlife health. We can learn from these countries, and their work can reduce our learning curve and give women access to care sooner rather than later.
Angela Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving, a Canadian women’s midlife virtual health centre.
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