The femtech sector is going from strength to strength, despite the weaker investment landscape throughout the healthcare industry, experts say.
Panellists were discussing the future of femtech at the ongoing GIANT Health conference being held in London, UK, between 4 and 5 December.
“The women’s health and femtech startup ecosystem has grown massively,” said Karina Vazirova, co-founder and CEO of Femtech Lab, a femtech-focused accelerator.
“Even though investment in healthcare in general has gone down, investment in women’s health has increased by almost 350% in the past three years.”
It has been a tricky past few years for life science investment. An investment report by Rock Health showed funding in healthcare had declined to $15.3bn in 2022, a significant downturn compared to 2021’s $29.3bn.
Vazirova said that evidence of the capital and fuel behind the innovation pipeline in women’s health is the presence of broader femtech products.
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“Traditionally, for solution areas, menstrual and reproductive health have always been tending since day one. Now, we’re starting to see a spike in menopause and perimenopause products. We’re starting to see the different categories of women’s health to up-trend,” Vazirova added.
“More companies are recognising that hormones significantly affect our well-being and quality of life – this is also linked to how we experience symptoms from other conditions and diseases.”
Hurdles need to be overcome for women’s health’s future
Despite the positive outlook of femtech investment, panellists were also keen to highlight issues that still need to be tackled to bring women’s health to the forefront of healthcare systems.
Katherine Church, SmartCo Consulting’s women’s health lead, pointed to the need for scalability and that without public sector support, the latest innovations could be out of reach for the vast majority.
“We need to bring employers, insurers, the NHS, and the state together as an ecosystem,” Church said.
Lesley Soden, director at healthcare consultancy company Succoris, highlighted the importance of data. She detailed her experience of how by analysing health services, care pathways can be amended to meet demand. Soden even alluded to how wearables can be a good place to start, outlining how there is untapped potential in women’s health data gathering.
“We already have data from wearables that we’re not looking at. From a patient’s point of view, the use of that data that’s being collected, if safely secured, is enormous.”
The sentiment is shared by others in the industry. At the recent 2023 pro-manchester Health Tech Conference in Manchester, UK, experts said that the lack of data on women’s health conditions is causing startups to lose out on VC funding.
Away from the tech itself, Kelly Klifa, CEO and co-founder of virtual care platform Ally Health, pointed out how certain strategies in healthcare systems can sometimes sideline important issues.
Klifa said: “Recently, we’ve seen a focus on chronic conditions – such as diabetes – taking the front spot. This is a good thing, but this was at the expense of women’s health. Unless you get front-line practitioners to appreciate [women’s health] data, it won’t take up a relevant space.”
The chair of the panel, Isansys Lifecare’s chief medical officer Dr Heather Duncan, concurred, mentioning data that, although seemingly unrelated, could initially provide insights into a wide range of health implications.
Lina Chan, director of women’s health at Holland & Barrett, took the conversation to retailers on the high street.
“The reality is that the education gap is still there, the stigma is still big. Until you’re having these conversations on the high street and completely normalising them, you’re going to have a barrier to access,” Chan said.
On top of these small nuggets of conversation, we need to ensure we make them as inclusive as possible.”