Femtech: Digital Help for Women's Health Care Across the Life Span

torr45838torr45838 wrote 03/27/2023 at 02:43 • 5 min read • Like

Although women represent nearly half of the world's population, the number of technology companies that address their specific health care needs is but a small fraction of the global technology market. In 2019, the Female Technology, “femtech,” industry, which primarily comprises services, products, and software designed to address the unique biological and medical needs of women, generated $820.6 million in global revenue, combined with $592 million in total venture capital investment. Recent projections suggest the market may reach $1.1 billion by 2024. In Europe, femtech raised $190 million in 2019 and was on track to do $98 million year-to-date in 2020. These numbers seem almost trivial when compared with the >$500 billion a year market for women's medical expenses.

Encouragingly, over the past 10 years we have seen an increasing number of apps and high-tech services that specifically address women's needs, including digital-driven fertility and menstruation tracking and solutions for pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause. A number of innovative biotech companies are also focusing on both prevention and management of associated conditions, including cancer and heart disease. These trends, accompanied by the historical underrepresentation of women in pharmaceutical trials, suggest a very significant and underappreciated market.

The term “femtech” was coined by Ida Tin, the Danish-born founder of Clue, a period and ovulation tracking app established in Germany in 2013. A related term known as “menotech” aims to improve women's lifestyles as they move through perimenopause and menopause, providing access to telemedicine, and information and data that women can easily access.

Although women make 80 percent of the health care decisions for most families and spend ∼30 percent more per capita than men on health care, only a small percentage (3 percent) of the digital health deals since 2011 have focused on women's health. Some feel that the term femtech should be discarded because it implies that the women's health care market is a small niche market rather than an opportunity to provide significant health care advances for >3.9 billion people.

A recent article suggests that raising capital for femtech or menotech presents significant challenges for entrepreneurs. According to Forbes, predominantly male investors have sometimes shown a lack of interest or engagement with femtech ideas.

For the market to successfully develop and show significant expansion, technology companies will need to differentiate themselves by offering added and demonstrable health benefits to women. In addition, adequate validation for the apps' efficacy needs to be provided, to indicate positive clinical value that enhances patients' health and well-being.

Years before the term femtech was coined, Luna Luna was helping women track their menstrual cycles. The idea originated in one of the large telecommunication companies in Japan. Founded in Japan in 2000, the firm now helps women predict and track fertility as well, incorporating advanced artificial intelligence algorithms into its apps. With >15 million downloads, and the majority of its users in their 20s or 30s, the company routinely works with medical institutions and universities to study, among other things, prevention of depression during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

An app developed in Italy, BenEssere Mamma, provides women with an easy-to-use convenient way to access a self-help protocol to deal with the stress and anxiety often experienced during pregnancy. Incorporating mindfulness meditation and guided imagery, it helps them to become more aware of affective states, while learning coping skills to improve well-being.

After a $110 million funding round in August 2021, Maven became the first femtech unicorn. Established in New York in 2014, the company's services include a virtual clinic that offers services for both women's and family health and well-being, including fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting care, and return to work support. Services are offered in >30 languages, in >175 countries, and have served >10 million families to date.

Nearly 1 billion women worldwide are coping with menopause. Dementia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis can all be triggered by menopause. Femtech and menotech can assist in a more pro-active approach across the continuum of care, from prevention to treatment. Two companies representative of the new mentech movement are Vira Health and MenoLabs.

Vira Health, headquartered in London, was founded in 2019. Stella, their core product, combines artificial intelligence and evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy with exercises (such as pelvic floor exercises) and diet and lifestyle modifications (including sleep hygiene, anxiety, and stress-reduction techniques) to create an individualized 12-week plan for each user.

MenoLabs, founded in 2019 and headquartered in Arizona, has developed the MenoLife app to help women who are experiencing symptoms of perimenopause, or who have transitioned to menopause. The app offers support for symptoms and triggers, such as anxiety, hot flashes, and night sweats. In a study with 15,000 users, 85 percent of participants reported a reduction in daily hot flashes (85 percent), headaches (65 percent), and mood swings (70 percent). The company has also created a line of all-natural supplements, with a portion of the purchase price being used to fund additional menopause-related research.

Other start-ups are taking a more specialty-based approach in this space. Founded by a triathlete, the fitness app WILD.AI supports a woman's training needs, from nutrition to training to recovery, staying in tune with cycles—menstrual, birth control, perimenopause, or postmenopause. The app syncs with several devices, including wearables.

Twentyeight Health is helping to provide access to health care for women who are on Medicaid or underinsured. Currently available in only a few states in the United States, the company continues to expand and partner with other organizations catering to underserved communities, including companies that focus on workforce entry programs for women.

The previous companies are but a few examples of the rising number of femtech firms. Founded in 2020, FemTech Focus, headquartered in Texas, catalogs >746 femtech companies in their resource list. They are empowering the femtech industry by bringing together entrepreneurs, investors, and health care professionals.

Over 30 years ago, after the introduction of the Women's Health Equity Act, the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) was established. The ORWH is part of the Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and works in partnership with the 27 NIH centers. Four years later, an NIH guideline was jointly issued by the Office of Research on Minority Health and ORWH. The guideline requires members of minority groups, as well as women, to be included in all human subject research.

More recently, in their latest framework program, the European Commission reaffirms its commitment to gender equality in research and innovation, with strengthened provisos for research teams and a goal of 50 percent women in Horizon Europe boards, expert groups, and evaluation committees. In 2020, as parts of its webinar series, the Royal Society of Medicine featured a three-part series devoted to the role digital technology is playing in the transformation of women's health.

All of these developments signify a concerted effort, in both the public and private sectors, toward creation of an environment conducive to the generation of evidence-informed solutions that address the unique health challenges and unmet needs of women, giving rise to long-term sustainable positive changes in women's health worldwide.