The rise of Femtech
As awareness and movements over gender inequalities progress, a new female health technology market has risen more simply known as the "Femtech" market. There are enormous physiological differences between the male and female body when it comes to hormones, processing medicine, birth, and pregnancy. Historically, medicine has seen the male body as the standard, while that of the female body as the deviant.
The term "Femtech" short for female technology is used to describe the rising trend of applications, devices, products and diagnostics catering to the needs of women's health. Femtech contributes to society with new emerging technology such as tracking wearables, artificial intelligence, apps, and noninvasive hardware to bring awareness to female health.
The origins of Femtech can be traced back to the 1960s, where the women's movement focused on sexuality, family and reproductive rights. It was not until 1960 (100 years after the first rubber condom was produced) that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the combined oral contraceptive pill Enovid, which became known as "the Pill". One roadblock to progress in Femtech was the exclusion of women from clinical trials. Less than 25 years ago, FDA policy recommended excluding women "of childbearing potential" from Phase I and early Phase II drug trials, including women who used contraception, were abstinent, or whose husbands were vasectomised.
Despite various advances, addressing women's health issues through research funding still came up short. To help address these problems, Ida Tin, coined the phrase Femtech and other Femtech innovators came forward. Women were no longer forced to wait for others to invest the time and money on research and development to act. Tin launched "Clue," a menstrual cycle-tracking application. Tin's application became a harbinger for other women's health initiatives seen today.
Despite its popularity, Femtech remains a significantly underdeveloped area of health tech. A mere 4% of all healthcare research and development is targeted specifically at women's health. Investors are just now starting to catch on, recognising an opportunity to reach a vastly underserved market, which also happens to be half the population. Femtech posted about $592.1 million in VC investment in 2019. However, one of the biggest challenges remains that most of the investment community is still male.
Currently, female technology startups primarily focus on a few sectors of female healthcare. These mostly include maternal and child care, family planning, fertility, and menstrual cycles while other biomedical devices deal with invasive reproductive health. However, women's health today has to also revolve around factors such as mental health, cardiac care or care for autoimmune diseases. Women have five times more mental health issues than men, have three times more heart attacks than men and are seven times as vulnerable to autoimmune diseases as men. This is where Femtech makes its way. It refers to diagnostics, therapeutics, drugs, apps and wearables that empower women to control their own body.
Fitbit, a sensor data technology, has created an anonymous database of their customer's menstrual cycles for research into more innovative ways to track periods. The Femtech industry also targets female health diseases such as endometriosis. Additionally, spit based fertility tests, Uber-like birth control delivery, and at home pap smears are on their way to the public to make female healthcare more attainable.
Femtech startups are shaping women's healthcare in a more convenient and accessible form. Progeny combines service, data, science and technology to provide fertility solutions to self-insured employers. Nuelle is a sexual wellness and intimate care company focused on delivering solutions for women. ObsEva is a specialty biopharmaceutical company developing drugs for women's reproductive medicine. Lattice Medical is a French startup that uses bioengineering to treat women who have survived breast cancer. It has begun developing bio-prosthesis that enables cancer survivors to win back their former bodies and lives.
In our country, Maya is dedicated to providing women with healthcare facilities, especially for reproductive and mental health. The startup is based in Bangladesh and incorporated in Singapore and is expanding into new countries. Maya uses natural language processing and machine learning technology for its digital assistant, which answers basic health-related questions and decides if users need to be routed to human experts.
Within general wellness, areas that Femtech can impact positively include pelvic and uterine health, urogenital health, menstrual health, mental health and nutrition and fitness.
Although the benefits of Femtech are increasingly being recognised, there is a lack of visibility and communication about Femtech applications to women users and to the healthcare professionals who are key influencers. Insights into the drivers and motivating factors that increase usage, enhance patient perception, and encourage better engagement, will be critical for Femtech to reach its maximum potential.