When women’s health becomes a business like any other

(AFP) – From the digital application for monitoring the menstrual cycle to the yoga of hormones, long-neglected women’s health is a thriving ecosystem on the back of “femtech” startups. But also a catch-all market, to the point of becoming a business like any other.

A recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey confirms this: if women’s health has long been considered a “niche market” – even if it concerns half of humanity – things are beginning to change. , with the key also “new opportunities” for investors.

The start-ups specializing in this area, born with the emergence of new technologies, even have a name: “femtech”, a contraction of “female” and “technology”. This market would represent $50 billion by 2024, according to Frost & Sullivan.

But at the confluence of health, a highly monitored sector and well-being, with much more vague rules: especially menopause clothes, fertility herbal teas, nutritional supplements, the possibilities are enormous and do not respond to identical rules.

– Lack of validity –

However, this is one of the problems resulting from the increasing interest of companies in the topic of women’s health: the lack of scientific validation. A medical device must thus meet strict standards.

The founder of the young shot Fizimed, which has developed a perineal rehabilitation probe, Emeline Hahn had her product validated via a clinical trial.

This is not the case for all its competitors, she laments: “Doing a clinical trial makes it possible to prove the interest of the device and get out of the +gadget+box. But this represents big investments, that’s also why not everyone does it”.

“We often talk about the CE marking, which makes it possible to indicate that such a product corresponds to the applicable safety standards. But it is not a clinical trial that proves its effectiveness. It can be misleading for consumers”, it assesses. entrepreneur.

Another point of attention, specific to online apps: the issue of privacy. Because if the European GDPR regulation actually protects the use of health data, there is “a vagueness in which service providers rush”, who sometimes prefer to talk about “well-being” data, emphasizes Lydia Morlet-Haïdara, director of the law and Health Institute at the University of Paris Cité, digital specialist.

In addition, “when you download an app, you accept general terms of use and you give your consent: behind the scenes, everything depends on what you approve”, Ms Morlet-Haïdara warns. The importance of reading these famous “T&Cs” in detail.

– Neglect –

However, the development of these offers comes as a more or less serious response to problems that have been left unsolved for too long. Because women have often been viewed as patients with more or less valid accusations by traditionally male doctors. Many studies have analyzed the problem and point in particular to the historical underrepresentation of women in clinical trials.

For doctor Thomas Borel, director of scientific affairs for the association of pharmaceutical companies (Leem), if today there is no difference in the desire to include men and women in clinical trials, there is “however a certain deficit in the analysis by gender “.

A phenomenon that is not without consequences: the McKinsey report notes that women are “twice as likely as men to experience side effects after taking medication”. Excluding oncology, approximately 1% of health research and innovation spending is devoted to diseases specific to women, McKinsey continues.

An emblematic example of the neglect associated with women’s health, endometriosis is only just beginning to become a recognized, properly diagnosed condition. It’s also one of those bedside pathologies that countless apps look for. But research remains in slow motion.

It is the tree that hides the forest, judge Claudine Junien, professor of genetics and member of the Academy of Medicine. “We say we care about women’s health because we’re talking about endometriosis, but what about other diseases, like autoimmune diseases, where there are significant differences between the sexes?” she asks.

Thus, “women are nine times more likely to develop lupus erythematosus than men. All drug trials should include male and female animals,” claims the doctor.

There are also cardiovascular risks for women that are still poorly understood by the general public, laments Professor Claire Mounier-Vehier, a cardiologist who seeks to promote better diagnosis. “If we communicate with an adapted language, women will learn to recognize their symptoms,” she explains.

In that context, the new health services for women represent “a step forward”, says Emeline Hahn. “However, if there were to be a problem with certain products that are not clinically tested, it could damage the whole sector,” she said.

As proof, actress and wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow excelled a few years ago with vagina “eggs” from her Goop brand, presented for a time, without scientific validation, as a solution to regulate the cycle. In 2018, Goop was convicted of false advertising.

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