Femtech's potential to capture data about women's health beyond reproduction

Yesterday at Bayer G4A summit a panel of startup execs came together to discuss the future of femtech and its role in improving research into women's health.
By Laura Lovett
02:43 pm
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The femtech world is beginning to venture out of the boundaries of reproductive health and into other areas of women’s health, according to panelists at Bayer G4A summit yesterday. 

Over the summer, Rock Health report that about 65% of all femtech funding has gone into fertility, pregnancy or motherhood. Today innovators are looking beyond the reproductive umbrella, at how technology and research can be applied to the field of women’s health.  

“It’s a subset of the problem. As a woman certain reproductive medicine and reproductive health has been a part of my entire life, even into post menopause. However, there are a lot of other things about me that have nothing to do with that, that are part of my health journey,” Deborah Kilpatrick, co-CEO and executive chair of Evidation, said during the panel.  

“So, I don’t think that it’s wrong, it’s just a small subset, a really important subset of women’s health, which is different than women’s health. We have to look at the health of women holistically, just like we look at the health of men holistically.”

Beyond fertility and reproductive issues, there are several conditions that are seen more often in women than in men, including Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders and mental illness, Arfa Rehman, cofounder of Chorous Health, said during the panel. However, overall, research is still lacking in this gap. 

“Whenever you dig deeper into these statistics, which are crazy to me, all you hear is ‘We have no idea why this is the case,’ like doctors and scientist are baffled why women are suffering so much, it’s a mystery. The sad fact is, we don’t have enough research, or data being collected on any of these issues,” Rehman said.

“For such a long time, there hasn’t been enough motivation in the industry to do anything about the lack of research on women’s health, it’s a well-known fact that women have been ignored in clinical trials for a long time, especially minority women, and I think, if any of the statistics I talked about were about men, I have a feeling we would have a lot more conversation and work on this topic.”

More research into these conditions is key, according to panelists. That research is getting transformed by technology, by decentralized trial platforms, by wearables and other data points. 

“Evidation’s work is about large-scale decentralized trials across large therapeutic areas and the way that women’s data may need to be captured differently, or may show up differently, or be effected by sex-specific factors, sort of, is through three lenses.

"There are sex specific conditions, for example menopause or ovarian cancer. There are conditions where sex-specific hormones function, ... often related to symptoms or symptom presentation such as migraines. Then there are sex-specific manifestations of diseases or symptoms that show up differently for women than for men.”

She gave the example of cardiac arrest, where men and women will exhibit different symptoms for the same condition. Today there are still many unknowns. 

“I do think there are differences in female and male bodies, and there are big consequences of leaving women out of studying these enormous health issues. If we leave women out, I don’t think we are getting a complete picture of why these diseases happen and why specifically they are so common among women,” Rehman said. 

Not only are there more tools to research women’s bodies, but those tools are also getting cheaper, thanks to tech. 

“I think that a lot of choice in the past on what data was and wasn’t collected in brick-and-mortar studies was done on the basis of people who had access to care and what data could be collected from them, and people who walked through the clinic door and submit to conformed consent because their physician chose to talk to them about it, and were willing to be in clinical trials, which has a lot of cultural drivers of it, as well as gender and sex based drivers, and the cost. How much did it cost to collect certain data?” Kilpatrick said.

She went on to say that today gathering biomarkers, blood work, and digital markers from wearables and sensors is less expensive than in previous decades. 

“We are in an era where data isn’t free, but it doesn’t cost what it used to cost,” Kilpatrick said. “There is a massive efficiency of scale and economy of scale that wasn’t available to us before.”

While technology may be at the future of women’s health, step one now is even similar.  

“My advice to the entire healthcare industry is really simple. Just start by listening and believing women,” Rehman said.

“The number one pain point we are trying to solve … is that women say, ‘When we go to our healthcare providers, they don’t believe me when I tell them what I’m going through. They don’t believe my symptoms. They tell me it’s in my head. They tell me I’m too young to be experiencing perimenopause and all sorts of stuff.’

"I think there is an enormous lack of education about women’s health and knowledge about women’s health. … I think a very simple first step is educating ourselves, be better informed for every player in the whole system what women’s health involves.” 

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