State of the Art of Femtech Conference Recap
On December 7th, the first conference of Tech4Eva was held to accelerate the Femtech development in Switzerland and across the world. The conference brought together 250+ stakeholders, entrepreneurs, innovators, academic researchers, as well as ecosystem builders to discuss the current and the future of technologies for women’s health.
The Importance of Femtech
Ursula Oesterle, VP of EPFL and Sophie Revaz, Director at Groupe Mutuel emphasised the importance of Femtech and why their organizations support Tech4Eva during their panel discussion.
Sophie Revaz pointed out: “We are clearly not doing enough for women’s health and this has to change. For example, women have not been represented in clinical trials while this has a huge impact on their health diagnostics and treatments due to the lack of specificity applied to these treatments that have been tested on men only and another example is that some topics such as menopause, menstrual health, fertility are still taboo topics in our society but also at work. Femtech can help solve all these problems with its solutions!”
Ursula Oesterle shared how EPFL has the opportunity to support innovation in women’s health: “Due to constant changes in hormones cycles no 2 days are the same as a woman – this has an impact on sleep, mood, energy, how we digest food…hence there is a clear need for Femtech solutions. We also need to think about prevention and wellbeing as society needs. EPFL has the responsibility to get the research out for the benefit of society. We need an accelerator to explore and the industry to pick it up - hence Tech4Eva is a platform where research meets industry to develop solutions!”
The Success Story of CLUE
The conference had the privilege of having Audrey Tsang, Co-CEO of CLUE by Biowink, the company which is credited as having coined the term “Femtech”, share the inspiring journey of the company established in Germany in 2013 as well as the growth and development of the Femtech sector. Audrey shared “It’s incredible to see the growth in the Femtech sector and the power it has today. It’s amazing to be speaking at Tech4Eva conference dedicated to bringing together a community for the exchange of ideas about Femtech.”
Originally, CLUE has developed a period tracking app to empower women and people with cycles with the science, data and technology needed to make informed choices about their lives. CLUE has since evolved to be a trustworthy companion for women in period health and beyond. It has become a certified medical device as an FDA approved digital birth control feature and has also developed a digital platform with resources co-developed and researched with partners from Stanford and Columbia Universities to educate women in the science of their bodies.
From the vantage point of CLUE, given its growth and user, Audrey shared two growing trends to pay attention in the sector. The first, is greater personalization of information and recommendation that make even the rarest menstrual conditions no longer single cases. The second, Femtech will drastically change accessibility, through digital health personalised solutions and will become more accessible and affordable to people around the world.
Lastly, Audrey shared the key focus areas for Femtech start-ups that have helped CLUE move forward:
• Care deeply for the user and build solutions that solve the problems they care the most about
• Earn trust, be transparent about your business model and safeguard their data.
• Embrace different, innovate not only on product, but also, in company culture, in health system, and leadership.
Highlights 2021 Cohort Tech4Eva
The first iteration of Tech4Eva Program was a great success not only in accelerating cutting-edge technologies but also in building a community around women’s health innovation in Europe. Lan Zuo Gillet, Director of the Tech4Eva program highlighted the impressive program accomplishments of the 2021 Tech4Eva cohort:
• 3500+ community of Femtech enthusiasts – entrepreneurs, corporates, investors
• 110 applications from 25 countries – 30 start-ups selected
• 20 Mentors & 23 trainers supported the CEOs in a 2-track program
• 17 public and private workshops held to improve business skills and scale the start-ups
• 8 CEO Peer2Peer brainstorming sessions
• 15 Focus group events on 4 topics: Pregnancy, Fertility, Menopause, Wellbeing/Prevention
• 4 international roadshows: Tokyo, Zurich, London and Boston
• 10-20 relevant contacts for each CEO & a total of 100+ talks with investors
• Tech4Eva program rated highly by CEOs - 96.6% satisfaction
• 2021 Tech4Eva Cohort companies fundraised CHF60 million during program duration
Sophie Revaz, Director at Groupe Mutuel, said: "With this first edition, we were able to position Tech4Eva as an international programme and I am very proud of the work accomplished. I am particularly happy with the excellent collaboration that took place between Groupe Mutuel and the EPFL Innovation Park.”
Ursula Oesterle, President at EPFL Innovation Park expressed her view: “With Tech4Eva we aspire to become the national innovation hub for women’s health and to bring Femtech innovation to the next level in 2022.”
In conclusion, Tech4Eva is not only an accelerator, but it also aims to become an inclusive innovation community and platform for Femtech bringing together all industry stakeholders. Furthermore, Tech4Eva calls upon the research community to bring forward the topics of health equity and gender medicine as well as open the innovation culture for more Femtech solutions.
Start-up founders and experts share research on most pressing issues in women’s health
One of the major objectives for the conference is to expand the knowledge and increase the conversation around women’s most pressing health issues. Like medical professionals and innovators around the world, the entrepreneurs of Tech4Eva have advanced some areas of health research in the process of developing their technologies. Their areas of research were presented at the conference.
1. Bridging the inefficiencies of IVF treatment – Anna Luisa Schaffgotsch, CEO, IMPLI
Currently, monitoring the hormone blood serum levels and using ultrasounds to understand follicle size is the common standard in IVF clinics. However, this process is extremely inefficient, and as a result costly. The average woman of 38 years of age undergoing IVF treatment requires 5.5 cycles to achieve successful fertilisation, this can take up to1 year and is a huge investment (avg. cost is $10k per cycle).
Through her talk, Anna Luisa explored how data can improve access, affordability, and efficiency of IVF treatments. She explained that more data collection from the parents and clinics and employing advanced analytics and predictive algorithms can yield real-time high-frequency hormones and determine the best time for implantation.
IMPLI is working on precisely that solution, with the goal to build more accurate and precise treatments using the data sets allowing clinicians to also make better decisions. This can increase the efficiency and safety of women undergoing treatment as well as reduce cost.
2. Streamlining point of care diagnostics & trends – Mathias Wipf, CEO, MOMM Diagnostics
The current pandemic demonstrates the need for rapid and decentralized diagnostics, and it also points out the current limitation of Point-Of-Care (POC) testing. POC diagnostics aim to streamline the diagnosis of disease by enabling doctors and patients to identify a condition within minutes, when and where they choose. The benefits of POC testing includes:
1. Near-patient analysis
2. Rapid Diagnostic Tests cutting down time-to-result from days to minutes
3. Little to no infrastructure
4. Home healthcare (self-testing)
However, the reality of POC testing is that there are still challenges to bringing them into the mass market. The challenges are that sampling is done by the individual, non-clinical staff, the analytical performance of the test is not laboratory grade. These factors lead to incorrect test results which may present a risk to patients and lead to higher healthcare costs.
In his talk, Mathias Wipf explored connected Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and better access to diagnostics and an improved patient care pathway, where POCs testing is currently failing. He explained that the increased use of wearables, telemedicine and mobile health allows for an easier deployment of RDTs for a wide range of testing and diagnostics. Based on this trend, his company, Momm Diagnostics is developing a rapid preeclampsia Rule-out test for immediate diagnosis. The application of this RDT provides a good example of how outpatient management reduces health costs and how diagnostic procedure can be streamlined.
3. How host reproductive status shapes the vaginal ecosystem – Laura Symul, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University
Research shows that the absence of Lactobacillus dominance in vaginal microbiota (VM) is associated with health issues such as an increased risk of preterm birth, higher susceptibility to sexually transmissible infections, or painful menstruations. Despite these risks, the impact of the hormonal milieu on the VM and the mechanisms driving changes in VM composition are still poorly understood.
Laura Symul gave a talk on how to better understand VM. She has collected data results from 40 participants and their vaginal swab samples showing that the host’s reproductive status and associated hormonal changes shape the vaginal ecosystem. The data showed that 50% of cytokines show differential concentration throughout the cycle with elevated levels during menses or around ovulation and 10% of metabolites throughout the cycle. Her research has focused on how a longitudinal approach for microbiota composition showed a strong correlation between variations in microbiota composition impacted by the menstrual cycle.
Laura’s research shows the clear need to deepen our understanding of the impact menstrual cycle and reproductive hormones have on the immune system to better anticipate and mitigate general health risks and conditions for women.
4. Impact of menopause in the workplace – Elizabeth Gazda, CEO, Embr Labs
In this talk, Elizabeth Gazda, CEO of Embr Labs explored how to support menopausal women to thrive at work. According to their research, by 2025, there will be 1.1B women in menopause worldwide. At the same time, 80% say that menopausal symptoms interfere with their daily life, and 50% say it has made work difficult or even untenable.
Data shows that women have an estimated 456 periods in their lifetime, they tend to miss work 23 days a year on average due to menstrual symptoms which comes at a cost to the employer of $10k over a lifetime. Later in life, menopause impacts women with a whole new set of symptoms, women spend up to $2000 per year trying to find a solution to the symptoms interfering with their lives and work.
This is a massive unmet market, by 2030 - 70% of the workforce will be made up by women. Elizabeth shared that their research showed that professional women in leadership positions are ready to quit their professional lives due to menopause affecting their work. This will have a huge societal impact; global menopause productivity loss equals to $150B/year according to Bloomberg.
Technologies like the bracelet developed by Ember Labs is designed with the goal to support women to continue their professional career without interruptions. Their solution helps regulate temperature from the wrist as a new pathway to help the brain balance the autonomic nervous system. This helps women manage their hot flashes any time anywhere, with no side effects.
5. Trends in psychological wellbeing and women’s health – Dr. Michelle Roesler, Soleil
The psychological wellbeing of women has been steadily deteriorating over the past two decades. We can say that on average 1 out of 5 will experience mental illness. This attributes to several social and economic factors that can put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men. For example, 2x more women attempt suicide than men or 2x more likely to develop depression. In this talk, Dr. Michelle Roesler, CEO of Soleil shared their research which showed 50% of mental disorders begin to manifest at ages 14-15. To revert the trend of mental illness in women, Soleil found that it is crucial to pay more attention to young women’s mental health at this age.
Incidentally, body dissatisfaction amongst women of all age groups and across cultures has increased during this period. Exploring unique ways to improve self-esteem is essential. In response to young people increasingly turning to technology to help manage their psychological wellbeing, there has been a rapid increase in mental health apps. Dr. Roesler, highlighted the opportunities for the further development of Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) within digital mental health and how technology can become a partner in modern mental healthcare.
6. Bringing women’s health Innovation to market – Andrew Tasker, CEO, Viveca Biomed
Bringing women’s health solutions to the market can be a windy and at times, a confusing journey for new founders, or founders with traditional healthcare backgrounds. Andrew Tasker, CEO of Viveca shared their lessons learned and resources to their successful road to market. Viveca Biomed was a concept (pre-fundraise and pre-launch) when it joined the Tech4Eva program March 2021. Today, they export Contrelle Activgard is a Class IIa medical device for female stress urinary incontinence to over 8 European countries and its reach is rapidly expanding.
Andrew shared what were the main elements that have helped Viveca reach these milestones:
• The practical and manufacturing corporate healthcare experience of the Founders as well as a focused approach and creating a new manufacturing environment.
• They have retained full control of all aspects of the go to market strategy.
• Working with private investors who deeply understand their business.
• Rapidly adapting and being flexible in the process of delivering products while communicating with the customers daily.
• Ensuring the focus remains on the core goal - relevance of innovation to improve the quality of women’s lives.
Andrew also shared his tips on working with a large beauty retailer, Boots for other Femtech start-ups to consider:
• Acceptance is a long process with multiple hurdles due to multiple stakeholders and any innovation needs strong technical and extensive clinical data
• High level of proof is required - CE mark is not adequate in itself
• Engagement is required from multiple internal departments
• Commercial and logistical set up is a major exercise for a small company
• Consumer communication remains the responsibility of the brand
In summary, the Tech4Eva Conference 2021 brought together the Femtech community and shed light on the field of women's health research, focusing on topics such as: Building inefficiencies of IVF Treatment; Streamlining point of care diagnostics & trends; How host reproductive status shapes the vaginal ecosystem; Economic impact of menopause in the workplace; Trends in psychological wellbeing & women’s health and Bringing Women’s health innovation to market as well as celebrating the success of the 1st cohort who also pitched live that same afternoon at the Swiss Accelerator Showcase.
Watch the recording of the conference on YouTube: https://youtu.be/MPsnER3Ri6Y