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Breaking down barriers: how femtech is changing women’s health in France

Unlike previous generations, women in France are now more willing to speak up and take their health into their own hands

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From detecting endometriosis to reconstructing breast tissue, the femtech sector in France sounds promising, to say the least. We speak to Delphine Moulu, co-founder and managing director of FemTech France, to find out what the market has to offer. 

With companies around the world using pioneering technologies to develop new products and improve patient outcomes, women’s health has never looked more exciting.

After decades in which women were excluded from medical research, the femtech sector offers a glimmer of hope.

Since the term was coined in 2016, the market has exploded, with more and more businesses seeking to disrupt the system and empower women to take control of their health.

However, to many, femtech remains a new concept. A former events manager at Station F, the world’s largest start-up campus based in Paris, Delphine Moulu had no idea what femtech was until one of her colleagues came up to her with an idea for a start-up programme.

“I’ve always been a feminist, but I hadn’t heard of femtech before,” she says.

“I started doing a lot of research and I was shocked to discover the health inequalities between men and women. So I immediately agreed to get involved in the the creation of a dedicated programme that we launched at Station F to help early-stage femtech founders from France and Europe.”

Delphine has left her job at Station F to launch FemTech France

Soon after she was introduced to femtech, Delphine realised how passionate she was about it, so much so that she left her job at Station F and launched FemTech France, an association dedicated to accelerating innovation in women’s health in France.

“Having the right people around you can help you go faster, as an entrepreneur, and can save you time and potentially money,” she explains. “That’s what FemTech France is all about.

“Our aim is to support entrepreneurs by creating synergies between the different actors of the ecosystem and taking part in all the strategic debates around women’s health in France.

“Last year, for example, we did our first bootcamp where we provided eight femtech founders with a toolbox with all the information they needed to create a femtech start-up in France.

“They also had the chance to be connected to our two partners for this first edition, the pharmaceutical lab Organon France and the health insurance Groupe VYV. It was so successful that we are organising it again this year!”

As data on the femtech sector was limited, Delphine and her team also put together the first mapping of the French femtech start-ups, showcasing the work of more than 80 businesses across France.

Delphine and the FemTech France team

“That was another important step for us,” she explains. “We wanted to show that the French ecosystem is booming, is not niche, and that, in fact, there are a lot of actors in this space, but they are still small because they have trouble getting funding.

“What we saw was that most of the femtech start-ups in France focus on reproductive health. However, we lack businesses around menopause and contraception. There’s a huge need, but due to stigma, there isn’t much innovation going on yet.

“In terms of trends, following the national strategy against endometriosis, we saw a lot more people talking openly about endometriosis and more recently, about PCOS.”

Finding a business model in health tech and femtech is also a challenge. Delphine says in France she sees a trend of start-ups shifting from B2C to B2B2C.

“Before Covid it was super taboo to talk about mental health at work. Now, every company offers employee benefits around mental health with applications and services to support employees. I hope in a beautiful future the same will happen for women’s health.”

The good news is that things are changing in France. Women are more open about their health than ever before and, unlike previous generations, they are now willing to speak up and take their health into their own hands.

“We’ve had a positive response from decision makers, ministers and politicians, as most of them are already aware of the gender gap in healthcare,” adds Delphine.

“We are happy to see that their doors are open. This is a public health issue, but if we work together, we can move things forward.”

To find out more, visit femtechfrance.org.

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Everything you need to know about adenomyosis

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Adenomyosis, a condition that causes the lining of the womb to bury into the muscular wall of the womb, affects as many as one in 10 women of reproductive age in the UK. Here, we look at everything you need to know about it.

 

What is adenomyosis?

Adenomyosis is a condition where the lining of the womb starts growing into the muscle in the wall of the womb.

The displaced tissue continues to act normally — thickening, breaking down and bleeding — during each menstrual cycle, leading in some cases to enlarged uterus and painful, heavy periods.

The condition is more commonly diagnosed in women over the age of 30, but it can affect anyone who has periods.

What are the symptoms of adenomyosis?

Sometimes, adenomyosis causes no signs or symptoms or only mild discomfort. However, according to the NHS, common symptoms can include:

  • Heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding
  • Severe cramping or sharp pelvic pain during menstruation (dysmenorrhea)
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Painful intercourse
What causes adenomyosis?

The cause of adenomyosis isn’t known. You may be more likely to get it if you are over the age of 30 and have given birth.

There have been many theories, including:

  • Invasive tissue growth. Some experts believe that endometrial cells from the lining of the uterus invade the muscle that forms the uterine walls. Uterine incisions made during an operation such as a cesarean section (C-section) might promote the direct invasion of the endometrial cells into the wall of the uterus.
  • Developmental origins. Other experts suspect that endometrial tissue is deposited in the uterine muscle when the uterus is first formed in the fetus.
  • Uterine inflammation related to childbirth. Another theory suggests a link between adenomyosis and childbirth. Inflammation of the uterine lining during the postpartum period might cause a break in the normal boundary of cells that line the uterus.
  • Stem cell origins. A recent theory proposes that bone marrow stem cells might invade the uterine muscle, causing adenomyosis.

Regardless of how the condition develops, its growth depends on the body’s circulating oestrogen.

How is adenomyosis treated?

Treatments include:

If these treatments do not work, women may need surgery. This could be a hysterectomy, or surgery to remove the lining of the womb, also known as endometrial ablation.

What is the difference between adenomyosis and endometriosis?

Adenomyosis and endometriosis are disorders that involve endometrial-like tissue. Both conditions can be painful. Adenomyosis is more likely to cause heavy menstrual bleeding. The difference between these conditions is where the tissue grows.

Adenomyosis occurs when endometrial tissue grows deep in the muscle of the womb, whereas endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue grows outside the womb in places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

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Everything you should know about PCOS

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PCOS is one of the most common causes of female infertility, affecting six per cent to 12 per cent of US women of reproductive age but, according to the CDC, it’s a lot more than that. This lifelong health condition continues far beyond the child-bearing years. Here, we look at everything you should know about it.

 

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a condition in which the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens, male sex hormones that are usually present in women in small amounts. The name polycystic ovary syndrome describes the numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) that form in the ovaries. However, some women with this disorder do not have cysts, while some women without the disorder do develop cysts.

Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles that are up to 8mm (approximately 0.3in) in size.

The follicles are underdeveloped sacs in which eggs develop. In PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means ovulation does not take place.

The three main features of the condition are:

  • irregular periods
  • excess androgen
  • polycystic ovaries

If you have at least two of these features, you may be diagnosed with PCOS.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

The symptoms may include:

  • Missed periods, irregular periods, or very light periods
  • Ovaries that are large or have many cysts
  • Excess body hair, including the chest, stomach, and back
  • Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
  • Acne or oily skin
  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
  • Infertility
  • Small pieces of excess skin on the neck or armpits (skin tags)
What causes PCOS?

The exact cause of PCOS is not clear. Many women with the condition have insulin resistance. This means the body can’t use insulin well. Insulin levels build up in the body and may cause higher androgen levels. Obesity can also increase insulin levels and make PCOS symptoms worse.

PCOS may also run in families. It’s common for sisters or a mother and daughter to have it.

Genes, insulin resistance and inflammation have all been linked to excess androgen production.

What are the complications of PCOS?

Women with PCOS are more likely to develop certain serious health problems. These include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, problems with the heart and blood vessels, and uterine cancer.

Women with the condition also tend to have difficulty getting pregnant.

How is PCOS treated?

There’s no cure for PCOS, but the symptoms can be treated.

According to the NHS website, if you have PCOS and you are overweight, losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet can make some symptoms better. Medicines are also available to treat symptoms such as excessive hair growth, irregular periods and fertility problems.

If fertility medicines are not effective, a surgical procedure called laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) may be recommended.

This involves using heat or a laser to destroy the tissue in the ovaries that’s producing androgens, such as testosterone. With treatment, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.

When should I seek help?

Experts recommend to see your doctor if your body has skipped periods, or you have other symptoms like hair growth on your face or body. Also, you should see a doctor if you’ve been trying to get pregnant for 12 months or more without success.

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Driving women’s health innovation: the launch of the Springboard Enterprise women’s health cohort

By Natalie Buford-Young, CEO of Springboard Enterprises

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Springboard founder Kay Koplovitz speaking at the Springboard Annual Gala

In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, addressing the unique needs of women has long been a neglected area.

However, with the emergence of initiatives like the recent announcement of White House Women’s Health Initiative and the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health, there’s a promising shift towards fostering innovation and putting more resources towards advancing women’s health.

At Springboard Enterprises, we are proud to contribute to fuelling growth in this sector.

Springboard was founded in 2000 as the first official accelerator to mentor and accelerate the growth of women-led ventures. We have now officially launched our women’s health innovation program to identify and accelerate the growth of women-led companies innovating in health areas that uniquely, solely or predominantly impact women.

The announcement of the 2024 Women’s Health Innovation Program Cohort marks a significant milestone in the journey towards redefining healthcare solutions tailored specifically for women. This cohort comprises ten women’s health companies, each led by founders and CEOs committed to revolutionising women’s health. 

According to a report by Silicon Valley Bank, investment in women’s health has experienced an astounding 314 per cent growth since 2018, starkly contrasting with the overall healthcare investments. 

This incredible growth has really shown the abundance of opportunity, which was especially evident during our competitive process for our inaugural program. With countless innovative companies to choose from, we ultimately selected ten standout candidates after much deliberation.

  1. Navigate Maternity: Founded by Ariana McGee, Navigate Maternity has created a system that allows clinicians and care teams to remotely monitor prenatal and postpartum patients. The goal is to improve outcomes and avoid inequitable care through real-time data.
  2. Bone Health Technologies: Under the leadership of Laura Yecies, Bone Health Technologies (BHT) has developed the Osteoboost belt, the first and only safe and effective treatment for the 63 million people in the US with Osteoporosis or Osteopenia as well as a comprehensive digital therapeutic platform and services – a personalised digital health and telehealth solution for optimising bone health.
  3. Visana Health: Co-founded by Shelly Lanning, Visana Health pioneers a comprehensive virtual women’s health clinic, offering integrated care across various women’s health conditions. By adopting a holistic approach to healthcare delivery, Visana Health strives to empower women through personalised and longitudinal care.
  4. Herself Health: Founded by Kristen Helton, Herself Health is dedicated to addressing the unique healthcare needs of women on Medicare, ages 65 and up. Through a patient-centred approach, the company links women’s health goals with their life goals, taking into account a patient’s physical, mental, social, sexual, and spiritual needs and targeting common concerns like bone health, weight loss, and emotional wellbeing. The company hires top providers and trains them in the intricacies of person-centred geriatric and women’s care, delivering value-based care focused on patient outcomes.
  5. Marma: Co-founded by Meredith McAllister, Marma addresses critical gaps in maternal health by providing personalised nutritional guidance throughout the journey of motherhood. Marma works with patients to understand their unique needs and provide individualised, holistic nutrition advice at every stage of motherhood.
  6. Kegg: Founded by Kristina Cahojova, Kegg empowers women with accurate and personalised fertility tracking solutions. By harnessing cervical fluid data, Kegg enables women to make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health.  Already in the hands of 25,000 women in the US, the company now has the world’s largest dataset on vaginal health and the unique ability to use machine learning to help drive predictive healthcare for women at scale.
  7. Cntrl+ Inc: Founded by Karen Brunet, Cntrl+ Inc. is a pioneering life science firm specialising in female wellness. Their company has innovatively crafted an over-the-counter reusable solution addressing female stress urinary incontinence. They are dedicated to exporting and distributing this product globally, offering an effective and environmentally friendly solution for women.
  8. Multitude Health: Founded by Casey Langwith, Multitude Health alleviates the pain of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) through an app-based clinical program that teaches members cognitive behavioural therapy skills, plus a tightly integrated therapist-led peer community to restore a healthy brain-body connection.
  9. Myri Health: Founded by Dr Pinky Patel, Myri Health introduces a comprehensive postpartum resource app, catering to the diverse needs of new parents. By providing personalised rehabilitation, evidence-based resources and a community platform, Myri Health seeks to support the postpartum journey.
  10. Ursamin: Founded by Shannon Aylesworth, Ursamin offers a SaaS-based care coordination platform for patients living with multiple chronic illnesses. By fostering a team-based approach to care delivery, Ursamin aims to improve outcomes and reduce administrative burden for providers and patients alike.

The diversity of solutions to advancing women’s health exemplified by the participants of the Springboard Enterprises women’s health cohort gives us a preview into the transformative potential of innovation in women’s health on various fronts.

At Springboard Enterprises, we play a pivotal role in catalysing innovation and driving meaningful change within the healthcare industry. By empowering women-led companies and amplifying their impact, we move closer towards achieving equitable and comprehensive healthcare solutions.

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