From the digital application for monitoring the menstrual cycle to the yoga of hormones, women’s health, long neglected, is a booming ecosystem, against a backdrop of the take-off of “femtechs”. But also a catch-all market, to the point of becoming a business like any other.
A recent report from the consulting firm McKinsey confirms this: if women’s health has long been considered a “niche market” – although it concerns half of humanity – things are starting to change, with the key, also, “new opportunities” for investors. The start-ups specializing in this field, born with the rise of new technologies, even have a name: “femtech”, a contraction of “female” and “technology”. This market would represent 50 billion dollars in 2024, according to Frost & Sullivan.
But at the confluence of health, a very supervised sector, and well-being, with much more vague rules: special menopause clothing, fertility herbal teas, food supplements, the field of possibilities is immense and does not respond to identical rules.
Lack of validity
But it is one of the problems posed by the growing interest of companies for the subject of women’s health: lack of scientific validation. Thus, a medical device must meet strict standards.
Founder of the young shoot 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 regrets: ” Carrying out a clinical trial makes it possible to prove the interest of the device and to get out of the +gadget+ box. But that represents big investments, that’s also why not everyone does it”. ” We often talk about CE markingwhich makes it possible to indicate that such a product corresponds to the safety standards in force. But it is not a clinical trial, which proves its effectiveness. This can be misleading for consumers,” says the entrepreneur.
Another point of attention, specific to online apps: the issue of confidentiality. Because if the European regulation GDPR indeed protects the use of health data, there is “a blur into which service providers rush” who will sometimes prefer to speak of “well-being” data, underlines Lydia Morlet-Haïdara, director of the Law and Health Institute of the University of Paris, a digital specialist.
In addition, ” when you download an app, you accept the general conditions of use and give your consentbehind, it all depends on what you allow,” warns Ms. Morlet-Haïdara. The importance of reading these famous “T&Cs” in detail.
The development of these offers, however, responds, more or less seriously, to problems that have been left unsolved for too long.. Because women have often been considered as patients with more or less valid recriminations by traditionally male doctors. Numerous studies have analyzed the question, pointing the finger in particular the historical under-representation of women in clinical trials.
For Doctor Thomas Borel, Director of Scientific Affairs of the Federation of Pharmaceutical Companies (Leem), if there is no difference today in the wish to include men and women in clinical trials, there is “however a certain deficit in the analysis according to gender”.
A phenomenon that is not without consequence: the McKinsey report notes that women are “twice as likely as men to experience adverse effects after taking medication”. Excluding oncology, approximately 1% of healthcare research and innovation spending goes to diseases specific to womencontinues McKinsey.
An emblematic example of the neglect associated with women’s health, endometriosis is just beginning to become a recognized, correctly diagnosed condition. It is also one of the pathologies at the bedside of which countless apps are looking. 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 are concerned with women’s health because we are talking about endometriosis, but what about other diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, where there are important differences between genders? »she asks.
Thereby, “Women are nine times more likely to develop lupus erythematosus than men. All drug trials should include male and female animals,” argues the doctor. There are also cardiovascular risks for women, which remain poorly understood by the general public., deplores Professor Claire Mounier-Vehier, cardiologist, who seeks to promote better diagnosis. “If we communicate with appropriate language, women will learn to recognize their symptoms,” she explains.
In this context, new health offers for women “represent a step forward”, says Emeline Hahn. “But if there were to be a problem with certain products that were not clinically tested, it could harm the whole sector,” she said. Proof, actress and wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow made a name for itself a few years ago with vagina “eggs” from its brand gooppresented for a time, without scientific validation, as a solution to regulate the menstrual cycle. Goop was convicted in 2018 of false advertising.