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Why are femtech companies embracing the wellness industry?

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Femtech wellness industry women healthcare

As the wellness industry is booming, femtech companies appear to be adopting many of its strategies, we ask why this is happening and what are the benefits

The global wellness market increased from $148.5 billion in 2017 to £275 billion in 2020 with a 22 per cent annual growth. Since then, a growing interest in nootropics, adaptogens and CBD have increased sales during the lockdown as consumers address growing mental health concerns.

While femtech industry share is also increasing, several companies are embracing a holistic and wellness approach to marketing their products or developing their range.

But why?
There are multiple benefits to introducing a wellness-inspired product or marketing. We examine some of the benefits and examples of brands that do it well.

1- Introducing the human element to healthcare

Accessing healthcare can be a lonely and confusing time especially when it comes to longer processes such as IVF or menopause treatments. Hormone tracking app, Hormona reported that 60 per cent of women felt alone in their hormonal journey including accessing care.
A lot of platforms and apps within the femtech sector have been developed with the aim of providing support and connecting women to experts or communities to address this loneliness. Sites offering women’s healthcare can often be mistaken for wellness websites with their colourful marketing and easy to understand language. The aim is to disrupt the traditional forms of healthcare by making women not only feel included in their healthcare options but empowered to take control of them.
The best femtech options are the ones that introduce the human element and offer connections that share personal experiences.

Femtech fertility start-up Aura is a great example of this. The London-based company was founded in 2020 after two of the female founders, Abi Hannah and Karen Hanson experienced the trauma of miscarriages and failed IVF cycles. The women were inspired to develop Aura, a B2C app that recognises that fertility treatment is more than just a clinical procedure. It offers an evidence-based tech companion for every stage of the IVF journey. The app, launched in October 2020, experienced more than 6k downloads in just the first six months.

Femtech wellness industry women healthcare

2 – Understanding healthcare

When it comes to reading results or health-based instructions, it can be a nightmare to understand exactly what you are seeing. This is also true of helping clinicians to understand data around women’s health conditions.
Fertility, period or menopause trackers can help by charting the daily experiences of women to create a pattern that can identify anything that might be wrong. Apps and platforms need women to be able to use the interface and input data as cleanly and effectively as possible. It means simplifying language, adding fun or engaging twists to keep users returning to the platform daily.
Results need to be easy for the average user to understand without the need for medical intervention. Women must be able to take control of their own healthcare in a way that they feel comfortable with. In recognising the data and identifying patterns, women are able to involve their clinicians earlier for extra support or faster diagnosis. Earlier diagnosis in many conditions may mean reduced symptoms, longer life expectancy and reduced costs both for the healthcare systems and also the patient.

3 – Inclusivity

Femtech companies are leading the charge in inclusive language, apps, marketing and healthcare.

There has been a huge gap in the market for products that acknowledge the fluidity of gender and the limits that ‘his or her’ tech devices can have. Companies particularly in the femtech, period care or sextech industries have already introduced gender-neutral language, non-gendered toys or even marketing that is non-gender biased.

Studies show that women make up only a quarter of tech developers in the market which may explain why female tech developers are embracing inclusivity in their companies. A glass ceiling needs to be properly smashed for everyone not just one sector.

By embracing other minority groups within the products, femtech designers are addressing needs that are generally not catered for with mainstream concepts. One example of this is FEWE’s marketing campaign around transmen who experience periods and need menstrual care products. Their slogan instantly sets the tone: ‘female-founded cycle care for every phase, for everybody.’

4 – Alternative options for healthcare

The wellness industry is aimed at finding alternative options for healthcare. The CBD industry increased dramatically during Covid lockdowns as patients searched for natural alternatives to anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. Wellness trends such as nootropics have also increased as people search for alternative ways to tailor their healthcare to their own needs.
Traditional paths of accessing medicine will always be visiting the doctor, getting a diagnosis, receiving a prescription and accessing medication through a pharmacy. However, femtech offers alternatives to these steps such as home testing kits, prescription deliveries, alternative or natural options for medications even wellness practices such as incorporating yoga into period care.
The sector recognises that wellness and physical health are connected. There cannot be an improvement in one without the other and it provides a platform for women to access education.
Femtech wellness industry women healthcare

5 – No topic off limits

When it comes to women’s healthcare, there appears to be no topic off the table with femtech companies. Which is a good thing too given the gender pain and data gaps that exist when it comes to even common health concerns such as strokes or heart attacks.
When it comes to the more difficult topics in health, femtech does not shy away from providing alternative care. This can include abortion pre and aftercare, period blood analysing and even vaginal PH testing. They focus on making care, education and community more accessible, safe and affordable for women whereas this hasn’t always been the case.
The wellness industry also caters to difficult subjects with companies offering alternative period care or pain therapies. There is also a strong emphasis on difficult mental health subjects such as depression or anxiety. Both industries are focused on providing a service that looks at one area of healthcare in full such as fertility. This means potentially tackling subjects that aren’t always easy to talk about.
Hey Jane is a great example of wellness meets femtech company that doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects. Hey Jane was founded by Gaby Izarra and Kiki Freedman. It gives women the option to access safe, affordable and easy delivery of abortion pills. The platform offers a telemedicine text chat service where women can speak with experts about their choices before delivering the pills. It also connects women to 24-hour support if they need to speak to someone.

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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

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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.

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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

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Alex Taylor and Victoria Thain Gioia, co-founders of Perelel

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.”

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New treatment could ‘disrupt’ growth of breast cancer tumours

A new type of immunotherapy could lead to pioneering treatment for breast cancer

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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.”

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