Connect with us

Hormonal health

“Let the activists keep beating the drum around female health inequalities”

By Nicola Finn, associate director at OggaDoon

Published

on

For decades medical research has been based on data from the male body, but we now know that women’s bodies respond in different ways to drugs and disease.

The research and application gap in healthcare is starting to be recognised and thankfully, the landscape is changing. After all women account for 50 per cent of the global population.

We are going to witness a massive explosion in female health solutions over the next five years. Femtech is predicted to grow at around 15 per cent CAGR, with solutions around mental health, ovarian health, menstrual health and menopause health – to name a few.

More female founders who connect and understand the different health challenges women face are starting businesses to help fill the female health gap in different ways. However, this is not for the faint of heart as the female founders must overcome other barriers such as the bias in capital funding, access to business loans and support for childcare to help free up women’s time.

In the UK, there is a widening funding gap between male-founded and female-founded companies. In 2020, just 2.3 per cent of VC funding went to women-led start-ups. This fell to 1.7 per cent in 2021.

There is additional research conducted by Extended Ventures which also spotlighted the huge investment gap facing diverse founders over the past decade, according to race, gender and educational background, with all-ethnic teams and female entrepreneurs receiving just a fraction of available funding versus all-white teams and male founders. The finding of baked-in bias holds true across all funding stages, per the findings.

Lack of diversity across the capital landscape – angel, venture capital (VC) or private equity (PE) – is no secret. At present, it is a male-dominated space globally.

In 2019 women comprise 30 per cent of venture capital personnel – a small increase from 27 per cent in 2017. Whilst this is encouraging and implies more representation, it still lags behind the average of UK working professionals.

All groups of humans have similar biases, naturally gravitating to people and scenarios that they can personally relate to. This extends to bias around investment decisions, intentional or not. But we need more female investors to be in these positions, as they can personally understand the impact of innovations, specifically targeting female health.

After years of male investors ignoring the female health space, it is finally being recognised as a hotbed for investment due to its predicted growth.

Thankfully, more women are coming into the female health investment industry and more funds are also headed by female investors.

This is needed to drive and ensure inclusivity and unbiased access to the industry and will need historic investment for innovation and collaboration.

In order to build towards the brave new world that prioritises individual female needs in healthcare, there needs to be a movement. Not just front-line activists championing and fighting for equality in female health, but also activist angels, VCs and PEs, providing funding support to visionary founders.

Right now, it is a critical time to keep taking those meaningful steps to bridge the gender health gap. With that, here are some of the UK femtech founders bridging the gender health gap:

Forth

Sarah Bolt, founder of Forth has always been part of the movement to highlight and bridge the female gender data and health inequality gap. Forth’s mission is to empower women to become experts on their own body through scientific knowledge and understanding. Historically, women’s bodies were deemed too complicated for clinical trials due to the complexities of their hormone network. This has resulted in women reacting differently to drugs and often misdiagnosed as they do not present with the same symptoms as men.

It was only six years ago that the National Institutes of Health required medical investigators to consider sex as a biological variable. But there is still a long way to go in closing the gender data gap in health.

Forth’s contribution to closing this gap in data is their ground-breaking solution MyFORM™, an advanced female hormone blood test that addresses the lack of clinical insight from current single day hormone blood tests. The single-day tests assume every woman has an average length cycle of 28 days and offer little in the way of personalisation.

MyFORM™ uses a combination of blood analysis, advanced mathematical modelling and endocrinology expertise to scientifically map how a woman’s hormones are fluctuating across their entire menstrual cycle rather than a single day.

With two blood tests taken on day 14 and day 21, the test is able to predict the woman’s own cycle length, creating charts of her four key female hormones across her menstrual cycle, as well as providing personalised ranges for each hormone.

Forth has also developed a unique way to assess a woman’s ovarian health. The Forth Ovarian Response Metric (FORM) takes the results from the blood tests to provide a score on how well a woman’s ovaries are responding to her control hormones. A score above 75 indicates a healthy hormone network. This is particularly useful for women entering perimenopause when their ovaries begin to become less responsive.

The product is designed for women who are experiencing natural menstrual cycles and not using any hormonal treatments such as the pill, Mirena coil or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It is particularly useful for:

  • Women who want to check for hormone imbalance
  • Women in their 40s who want to understand if the symptoms they are experiencing are due to perimenopause
  • To identify or manage an existing hormone related condition
  • Women who consider starting a family
  • Exercisers, athletes and dancers who want to perform to their personal best throughout their cycle and ensure their hormones have not been compromised by their training load and fuelling strategies
  • Women whose menstrual cycles have recently resumed following recovery from RED-S – relative energy deficiency in sport – discontinuation of hormonal contraception or in the postnatal period.

The highly accurate, personalised results are based on eight hormone measurements, which are translated through AI and delivered on the Forth app. This offers scientific data and actionable insights as hormones are intrinsically linked to a woman’s wellbeing and have an important role to play not only in fertility but in heart health, bone health and the nervous system.

LatchAid

Dr Chen Mao Davies started LatchAid after facing her own struggles with breastfeeding, pain and subsequent depression. She realised that mothers needed maternal support fit for the 21st century in an interactive way.

With the pandemic currently paralysing the predominantly face-to-face support model in place, her app is more necessary now than ever.

LatchAid supports breastfeeding mums and their families through interactive 3D technology, artificial intelligence, virtual peer support groups and live healthcare specialists to combat problems experienced with the latching technique. The app prides itself on being inherently accessible and democratic, empowering women everywhere, regardless of their economic or environmental circumstances.

As well as positive health outcomes for mothers and babies, breastfeeding offers social, economic, and environmental benefits. The UK, however, has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the world. 90 per cent of women give up breastfeeding before they want to because of pain, health issues or lack of support. Unsuccessful breastfeeding also costs society around US$1B per day globally.

LatchAid is an app that utilises 3D interactive technology to help mothers learn breastfeeding skills intuitively from 3D avatars. It offers virtual peer support groups to connect mothers to a close-knit peer-to-peer support network and an AI-powered virtual supporter chatbot to provide users with personalised expertise and companionship 24/7.

Elvie

Elvie is a women’s healthcare company providing products which take women’s tech out of the dark ages. Tania Boler started the business after working on women’s health policy for global NGOs and the United Nations.

She believes that the release of health products targeting a female audience must go alongside the breaking down of societal stigmatisation of women’s health.

One such product is the sleek, innovative breast pump – the smallest and lightest wearable electric one on the market. It is a silent, wire-free, fully electric device that fits subtly into a nursing bra, ensuring new mothers can pump whilst moving around comfortably.

The pump connects to a mobile app which releases a notification when the bottles are filled. The app can also be used to adjust the suction, monitor pumping history, monitor real-time milk levels and pause and start pumping. The product also includes bra adjusters to ensure less pressure on the breast.

Another product by Elvie is the pelvic floor trainer. Now available on the NHS, this product connects to the Elvie app and encourages training with fun games for five minutes, three times a week.

The trainer is fully waterproof, rechargeable and covered with medical-grade silicone and it is safe to use with an IUD and coil. The app encourages use with four different skill levels and six different exercise types including strength and lift.

Clementine

Kim Palmer founded the women’s mental health app Clementine in 2017 which uses hypnotherapy to lower stress levels and build confidence. She created Clementine after suffering herself from panic attacks during pregnancy. The app has both a free and a subscription-based version with sleep sessions, confidence and anti-anxiety courses as well as mantras.

Nua Fertility

Deborah Brock founded Nua Fertility following the challenges she had through her own fertility journey. Following her own successful pregnancy through optimising diet, she started researching the connection between the gut microbiome and reproductive health. After three years of research, Deborah developed two fertility supplements – one for men and one for women – that focus on the microbiome to optimise fertility health.

Nua fertility supplements, have a microbiome focus and are designed to support the nutritional needs of men and women when trying to conceive. The company’s NuaBiome Women supplements combine fertility-supporting vitamins and minerals with a blend of strains of good bacteria to promote healthy conception, egg health, and foetal development.

The friendly bacteria offer three significant benefits: absorption of essential fertility vitamins and nutrients, strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation in the body.

All these female founders have fought to gain funding for their propositions and succeeded despite the obstacles due to the baked-in bias and lack of diversity across the business capital arena.

However, more female investors need to be appointed as they can personally understand the impact of female health tech innovations.

Let the activists keep beating the drum around female health inequalities. As we continue to make these meaningful steps to bridge the gender health gap we can remember that necessity is the mother of all invention.

News

Researchers to develop portable hormone monitoring device

The device is hoped to help women identify symptoms that could be signs of common female health conditions

Published

on

Scientists from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University are working on a new portable device that could help women track and monitor their health and hormones.

The gadget will be smaller than an iPhone and will keep track of the full picture of women’s health, from period symptoms to hormone fluctuations, mood and sleep.

The device is hoped to help women identify symptoms that could be signs of common health conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and alert them when they would need to see a doctor.

The researchers hope it will capture data on a variety of fertility-related hormones, like luteinising hormone, which stimulates ovulation, and others like thyroid-stimulating hormone.

The project, led by Dr Sadeque Reza Khan, a specialist in biomedical devices and sensing in Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Sensors, Signals and Systems, is funded by the Scottish Government.

Improving women’s healthcare

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the waiting list for gynaecology appointments, diagnosis and treatment has soared up to 60 per cent recently, affecting more than half a million female patients.

A study conducted by the RCOG in 2022 shows such delays can significantly affect women’s physical and mental health, as well as their quality of life.

“We’re working on building a device that will be about half the size of an iPhone and completely portable. Women will be able to take it everywhere,” explained Dr Khan.

“Women will be able to test both blood and urine, as well as record symptoms, which will provide the most accurate and real-time picture of their health. The device will transfer key data wirelessly to an app, and share it with a gynaecologist.

“At Heriot-Watt we are working on the hardware development and miniaturisation aspect of the device, which is critical as we envision a portable female health monitoring device which women can carry anywhere and reliably use without any hassle.”

Dr Khan is working with viO HealthTech, whose OvuSense device provides continuous general monitoring of the reproductive cycle, and Dr Ruchi Gupta from the University of Birmingham, an expert in developing biosensors.

Rob Milnes, CEO of viO HealthTech, said: “Our users tell us they want access to personalised health information and insights that can help them make informed decisions about their health not only when issues occur, but to avoid those issues in the first place.

“This project offers the exciting prospect of targeted diagnostics added to our existing monitoring system”

Dr Ruchi Gupta from the University of Birmingham, added: “We have been developing our leaky waveguide (LW) biosensor to measure different types of biomarkers; proteins, DNA, hormones, and even cells.

“Our LW biosensor will be at the heart of the gadget for women’s health monitoring. Our partnership with Dr Khan and viO HealthTech will be a key step in the translation of our LW biosensor from bench to bedside. ”

Concept to commercialisation

The team have already started working on the project and, once they have proof of concept, they want to start focusing on making the device commercially available.

“As well as making sure we meet all regulatory requirements, we need to ensure that women can afford the device,” said Khan.

“We’re focused on making sure we are using affordable, sustainable materials that will make this available to a greater number of women.”

Professor Steve McLaughlin, deputy principal of research and impact at Heriot-Watt University, said: “The development of this device demonstrates how our new centre of excellence will support the creation of ground-breaking technologies that have the potential to revolutionise patient care.

“Bringing together academics and industry experts, we want to accelerate the process of bringing these vital developments to market.

“We already have several research projects underway and the next 12 months are going to be a really exciting time as we showcase our developments on the global stage.”

To receive the Femtech World newsletter, sign up here.

Continue Reading

News

Canadian period pain relief company makes first acquisition

The acquisition is hoped to help Somedays improve the range of period care products available on the market

Published

on

Lux Perry, founder and CEO of Somedays and Aisle co-founders, Suzanne Siemens and Madeleine Shaw

The Canadian period pain relief company Somedays has acquired the period care brand Aisle in an effort to “redefine” the future of menstrual care.

Lux Perry, founder and CEO of Somedays, has said the acquisition of Aisle would help the company prioritise reproductive health and improve the range of period care products available on the market.

“The philosophy underpinning this acquisition prioritises keeping reproductive health businesses in the hands of those they serve and celebrating an impact-based brand that has been at the forefront of the menstrual health movement for decades,” Perry said.

“It may sound idealistic, but I believe that good business and good values are not mutually exclusive. The strategic aspect of the deal lies in the synergy of the two company’s shared audiences and complementary product lines.”

Suzanne Siemens, co-founder of Aisle, said: “Aisle’s story is deeply rooted in menstrual equity and advocacy.

“As we pass the torch to Lux, we are confident that the vision of universal, sustainable access to menstrual care we’ve championed will continue to flourish for generations to come.”

Aisle co-founder, Madeleine Shaw, added: “This intergenerational union exemplifies a fusion of experience and new energy, breathing fresh life into Aisle’s foundational values of sustainability, transparency and body autonomy that have guided the brand for over three decades.”

Founded by a group of friends with period pain and endometriosis who needed better pain relief options, Vancouver-based Somedays is developing plastic-free products for period pain relief. 

“Somedays is my retaliation for the 20 years I spent being invalidated, dismissed and ignored by a society that told me my pain was normal,” explained Perry.

“I had my first experience with debilitating period pain when I was hospitalised for it at nine years old. For the next 20 years, I was passed from physician to physician, trying to find answers and relief.

“I spent a decade on birth control and countless additional medications to combat the side effects of that. None of it worked. I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis in 2021.”

The company, famous for its viral period pain simulator videos with over three billion views, aims to bring a bold vision for the future of menstrual wellness and expand into menstrual healthcare services.

According to Perry, the acquisition of Aisle has the potential to propel the two companies into an exciting future where innovation and product development take centre stage.

“We envision a revolutionary approach to health that will boldly shape the future of menstrual care,” the founder said.

To receive the Femtech World newsletter, sign up here.

Continue Reading

News

Virtual care platform raises US$10m to support women with common gynaecological conditions

Gynaecological health is one of the least prioritised areas of health globally, despite an enormous burden of morbidity and mortality

Published

on

Rachel Blank, founder and CEO at Allara

The US virtual care platform Allara has raised US$10m in Series A funding to support women with common hormonal and gynaecological conditions.

Allara is a specialty care platform for women living with complex hormonal and gynaecological conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.

The company aims to pair patients with specially trained doctors and dietitians to fill, what it describes as, a significant gap in women’s healthcare.

Globally, gynaecological health is one of the least prioritised areas of health, despite an enormous burden of morbidity and mortality.

Research shows over one in three women live with a chronic condition, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, or hypothyroidism.

Despite this, women report years of suffering and go as many as 10 years undiagnosed. These conditions often cause complications such as infertility, high-risk pregnancies, obesity, and diabetes, as well as delayed diagnoses and treatments.

“Women’s health is often misperceived as limited to pregnancy and fertility, failing to acknowledge the intricate web of health conditions that affect women’s daily lives and long-term health,” said Rachel Blank, who founded Allara after her own difficulty navigating a PCOS diagnosis without sufficient medical support.

“At Allara, we finally take the burden off the patient to navigate a siloed care system and empower her with a whole-body, preventative approach to her health.”

The company’s latest round was led by Google Ventures, with participation from Great Oaks Venture Capital, Humbition, Vanterra, Gaingels, and individual investors, including Tom Lee (One Medical) and Maggie Sellers.

The start-up will use the new funds to expand access to care by extending its insurance coverage, launching partnerships with health systems and conducting clinical research.

Blank said: “We are grateful for the support of GV and our dedicated partners to scale our operations and extend this vital care offering to women nationwide.”

Frédérique Dame, GV general partner, added: “Women of reproductive age have complex hormonal care needs, and Allara raises the bar for clinically driven, personalised hormonal healthcare.

“Allara has built a brand and community that hundreds of thousands of patients trust, and we’re excited to support CEO Rachel Blank and the team as they provide women with compassionate, modern healthcare.”

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2023 Aspect Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.