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Long neglected, women’s health is now at the core of health applications. Their name, femtech. These applications are in full expansion, but are also subject to debate among experts.
From digital apps to menstrual cycle tracking to hormone yoga, women’s health is becoming a booming business after years of “femtech” neglect. But it is also a market that is considered to be catch-all, to the point that it becomes a business like any other.
Women at the heart of health algorithms
A recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey confirms that if women’s health has long been considered a “niche market” – although it concerns half of humanity – things are beginning to change, with also important “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 2025, according to Frost & Sullivan.
However, this highly monitored sector of health and well-being still has 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 scientific validity of certain applications
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 to get out of the ‘gadget’ box. But it represents big investments, and that’s also why not everyone does it.”.
“We often talk about the CE marking, which indicates that a certain product corresponds to the applicable safety standards. But it is not a clinical trial that proves its effectiveness. This can be misleading to consumers“, says the entrepreneur.
Another point of attention, specific to online apps: the issue of privacy. In fact, although the European GDPR regulation protects the use of health data, there is “a vagueness in which providers are consumed” who sometimes prefer to talk about “well-being” dataemphasizes Lydia Morlet-Haïdara, director of the Law and Health Institute at the University of Paris, a digital specialist.
Not all diseases are covered…
However, the development of these offers comes as a more or less serious response to problems that have been left unsolved for too long. Women have often been viewed as patients with more or less valid complaints by traditionally male physicians. 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, it exists. “however, a certain deficit in the analysis by gender”.
A phenomenon that is not without consequences: the McKinsey report notes that women have “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 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.
“Women are nine times more likely to develop lupus erythematosus than men. All drug trials should include both male and female animals“, pleads the professor.
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 have not been clinically tested, it could damage the whole sector”she assesses.
As proof, the actress and wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow excelled a few years ago with “eggs” for the vagina from her Goop brand, presented for a time, without scientific validation, as a solution to regulate the cycle. But in 2018, the American star’s brand was convicted of false advertising.