When women's health becomes a business like any other

When women’s health becomes a business like any other

Paris (AFP) – From the digital application for monitoring the menstrual cycle to the yoga of hormones, women’s health, long neglected, is a rapidly expanding 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 by the consultancy 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

However, this is one of the problems posed by the growing interest of companies in the subject of women’s health: the 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: “Doing a clinical trial makes it possible to prove the interest of the device and to get out of the +gadget+ box. But that represents large investments, it is 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 safety standards in force. But it is not a clinical trial, which proves its effectiveness. This can be misleading for consumers”, estimates the entrepreneur.

Another point of attention, specific to online apps: the issue of confidentiality. Because if the European GDPR regulation indeed protects the use of health data, there is “a vagueness in 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 Cité, digital specialist.

In addition, “when you download an app, you accept general conditions of use and you give your consent: behind it, everything depends on what you authorize”, warns Ms. Morlet-Haïdara. 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 considered as patients with more or less valid recriminations by traditionally male doctors. Many studies have analyzed the issue, pointing in particular to the historical under-representation of women in clinical trials.

For Doctor Thomas Borel, director of scientific affairs for the federation of pharmaceutical companies (Leem), if there is no difference today in the desire 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 consequences: 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 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, 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’re looking after women’s health because we’re talking about endometriosis, but what about other diseases, like autoimmune diseases, where there are significant differences between gender?” she asks.

Thus, “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 an adapted language, women will learn to recognize their symptoms,” she explains.

In this context, the 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.

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