After attending an event hosted by Goddess Gaia Ventures on ‘The Future of Femtech’, I felt inspired to understand how and why, in 2022, digital technologies in women’s health were still so behind compared to our male counterparts. Despite venture capital (VC) funding tripling over the last five years ($600m in 2015 to $1.9billion in 2021) and a market valuation of $60b+ in 2027, women’s health continues to be underfunded with most players choosing to focus on reproductive health.
What is ‘Femtech’?
The term ‘Femtech’ is commonly used among VCs and start-ups, however some critics argue this label is reductive. It is seen to reinforce gender stereotypes which may deter male investors and downplay the scope. A shift in language to the more expansive term women’s health when discussing cis women would be beneficial. This definition is broader, encompassing all life stages beyond just the reproductive cycle, whilst removing the ‘pink tax’ associated with it. By changing the language we use, we can change the mind-sets and behaviours around women’s health.
Women’s health is changing, but many opportunities remain untapped
Maven Clinic, founded in 2014 is a seminal example. Last year, their valuation reached $1 billion, becoming the first U.S unicorn solely dedicated to women’s health. Maven started in maternity care and then expanded their digital services across the reproductive cycle. Other organisations have followed a similar strategy launching D2C models offering a single service, then shifting their focus to B2B. They now seek reimbursement and regulatory approval as they build upon expertise and real-world data. One of the key drivers of success that other firms should mimic is stakeholder alignment and buy-in. Creating a solution in which incentives and ROI are aligned across providers, employers, pharma and most importantly patients will support successful reimbursements for technologies in this space. Maven boasts a 2:1 clinical ROI and 4:1 business ROI on their website, and upfront educates stakeholders of the benefits to these solutions to encourage buy-in.
Although we applaud Maven’s pioneering virtual care model, women are fertile for only 30 out of ~80 years of life, and not all women desire motherhood. This narrow focus misses substantial opportunity to better diagnose, treat and care for conditions that disproportionally or exclusively affect women. Despite this gap, we are seeing some progress and investment in digital solutions to support women outside of reproductive health, such as:
- Hinge Health who offer exercise therapy for MSK problems – they announced last year a $400 million Series E financing
- Renovia who provide support for pelvic floor disorders, received FDA clearance for their Pelvic Health System to support chronic fecal incontinence (FI) in women
Although we are seeing commitment by pharma through M&A in women’s health, through Bayer acquiring KaNDY Therapeutics and Care/of and Procter & Gamble acquisition of This Is L, deals in the digital health space are limited, highlighting a potential gap in opportunity for pharma to lead.
Considering more than 80% of healthcare buying decisions are made by women in the US, pharma and investors should look to engage with start-ups and accelerators in this space to realise the true potential of sector.
So where are some gaps?
In the expansion of Femtech to Women’s health represents huge financial opportunities as well as societal potential. However, solutions must remain inclusive to ensure success:
- Include additional health concerns – The world of women’s health should recognise that women are more than just reproductive organs and acknowledge that symptoms such as heart attacks often differ to men. Therefore, significant opportunity lies within cardiovascular health (diabetes) as well as neurologic conditions (Alzheimer’s disease);
- Include the LGBTQIA+ community – As solutions are limited for the LGBTQIA+ population, and these individuals are more likely to have trouble accessing healthcare, tailored solutions are required to support these individuals, particularly in sexual health;
- Include people of colour: At the forefront is creating an inclusive environment for women in R&D and clinical trials, which although improving, often excludes women of colour (WOC).
Based on demographic trends and population health data, there is space to play, and the opportunity is huge – to provide bespoke digital solutions to women whilst empowering them in healthcare settings. So what is pharma waiting for?