A CALLED HORMONE Relaxin helps relax the hips of pregnant women. Without it, the pain of childbirth would be unbearable. Her work done, however, relaxation lasts in women’s bodies for up to a year, when softer ligaments make new mothers more prone to injury, as Jessica Ennis-Hill, an Olympic champion heptathlete, discovered at training after giving birth in 2014. Five years later, Dame Jessica launched Jennis, a fitness app to help other women perform postpartum workouts safely. It now allows users to optimize workouts for different phases of their menstrual cycles, and just completed a successful fundraising cycle.
Dame Jessica’s startup is part of a wave of ‘femtech’ companies offering women ways to overcome gender-specific health issues. The market could more than double, from $ 22.5 billion last year to more than $ 65 billion by 2027, estimates Global Market Insights, a research firm. After ignoring it for years – in 2020, femtech only received 3% of all health technology funding, and a modest $ 14 billion has been invested in it to date globally – the Venture capitalists are finally waking up to the opportunity. So far this year, they have invested nearly $ 1.2 billion in the industry, almost half of the annual record for 2019 (see chart 1).
Last year, Bayer, a large German drugmaker, paid $ 425 million to buy KaNDy, a UK developer of a non-hormonal treatment for menopause symptoms, and Bill Gates, Microsoft’s billionaire co-founder, supported BIOMILQ, a startup that has produced cell culture breast milk and aims to bring both parents closer to their newborn baby. In August, Maven Clinic, an American startup that started out as a femtech but spread to other areas of health, raised $ 110 million and achieved “unicorn” status, with a valuation of over $ 1 billion. In September, Elvie, another UK firm, raised $ 97 million from venture capital firms.
Unlike men’s health tech, which often focuses on erectile dysfunction, a condition that perhaps afflicts one in ten potential users, femtech offers products like period trackers that could be of use to virtually anyone. the world’s 4 billion women at some point in their lives. Lives. Additionally, women are 75% more likely than men to adopt digital healthcare tools. This creates a huge potential market.
A big reason femtech has been slow to develop has to do with the underlying medical science. For conditions that affect all humans, males are more often studied, largely due to misplaced fears that female hormonal fluctuations may confuse the results (male mice are favored for the same reason). In the few more inclusive studies, the results are rarely disaggregated by gender, which obscures how diseases – and the drugs used to treat them – affect women differently. “We acted as if women were just smaller versions of men,” observes Alisa Vitti, a hormone expert whose work on the 29-day “infradian” body clock, which affects everything from metabolism to sensitivity to pain. phenomenon, underlies many period trackers.
As a result, many health issues specific to women have, despite their pervasiveness, been systematically overlooked. Femtechs are helping fill this research gap. Noting that eight in ten women suffer from premenstrual pain but that no treatment has been specifically designed to relieve it, the founders of Daye, a British startup, designed a tampon containing cannabidiol, after observing that the vaginal canal has more cannabinoid receptors than any other part of the female body.
Hertility Health, also UK, offers non-invasive tests that can help diagnose nine common gynecological conditions. Elvie’s portable and quiet breast pump is a bestseller in America and Britain; its app-controlled pelvic floor trainer reduces the chances of the typical procedure, in which surgeons insert “a fishnet and lift your pelvic organs because they fall out of your vagina,” says Tania Boler, founder of the company.
This is welcome progress. But too many femtechs face an uphill struggle. Helen O’Neill, who heads Hertility Health, calls the $ 5.7 million funding for her closed business in June a “soul-destroying” process. “It’s mostly gray-haired men who say they’re not sure there’s a market for it,” she says. It does not matter that all women with a reproductive system require gynecological assistance at some point. ■
This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Girls uninterrupted”