Novel industry insights point to opportunities for women’s health innovation
Tech4Eva mentor, Alice Zheng, Principal at RH Capital - a Rhia Ventures Fund, recently co-authored a few research articles on women’s health innovation trends and opportunities. We sat down with her to hear more - rationale, highlights and a roadmap moving forward. Please find below the interview: Unlocking opportunities in women’s healthcare and The dawn of the FemTech revolution
1. Why did you undertake this research?
As a clinician, patient and public health advocate, I have always known that women’s health is vastly underserved. As a consultant at McKinsey prior to becoming an investor, I was excited to see more and more large healthcare companies develop an interest in women’s health in the past few years, while FemTech surged in parallel in the innovation ecosystem. I found broad agreement that women’s health is underserved and underinvested, but there wasn’t much of an evidence base around that and even the scope and definition of women’s health was unclear. This inspired me to take a quantitative view to substantiate just *how* underserved and underinvested women’s health is, define the space and showcase the rise of FemTech in a quantitative way.
2. What are some key highlights from the research?
First, it’s important to highlight that the scope and definition of women’s health has evolved. Reproduction is often top of mind, but women’s health is actually more expansive and recent dialogue has expanded to include conditions that affect women exclusively, disproportionately, or differently.
Second, women’s health has been historically underserved. Male physiology was often the default in healthcare research, from drug development to our understanding of disease etiology and symptoms, putting women at risk of misdiagnoses and adverse drug events. Female-specific conditions have historically seen low levels of R&D investment across both academia and biopharma. In one of the articles, we analyzed the clinical-stage biopharma pipeline and found that just 1-2% of assets in clinical development were targeted at female-specific conditions beyond women’s oncology, as shown in the exhibit below. Yet, such conditions affect large numbers of women and often have poor outcomes, such as delayed diagnoses and lack of a cure with endometriosis and rising maternal morbidity and mortality in the US.
Third, things are beginning to change and women’s health is at an exciting inflection point. As novel life science tools are applied to women’s conditions, there are opportunities to discover new biomarkers and therapies. Additionally, with the emergence of FemTech solutions – often consumer-oriented and digitally-enabled – previously neglected disease areas are seeing new management approaches outside of traditional biopharma. The exhibit below shows the breadth of innovations we analyzed in the articles. Additionally, increased representation of women among inventors, founders and investors spurs much-needed innovation.
3. How can we move forward from here?
To move the needle on women’s health outcomes, we need all participants in the ecosystem to collaborate. We need more basic science research on the underlying biology in both female specific conditions and those that affect women differently, so that we have new targets and life science tools. We need more entrepreneurs to start companies to bring innovations - life science, digital and otherwise - to market, as well as VCs to fund the companies (and LPs to fund these VCs). Providers, payors, policy makers, companies, foundations and women themselves play a role as well.
If anyone wants to bounce ideas on the research, other data gaps or paths forward - please don’t hesitate to reach out!