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Long neglected, women’s health is now at the heart of health applications. Their name, femtech. These applications are in full expansion but are also the subject of debate among experts.
From digital apps for tracking the menstrual cycle to hormone yoga, women’s health is becoming a booming business after years of neglect by “femtech”. However, it is also a market considered to be catch-all, to the point of becoming a business like any other.
Women at the heart of health algorithms
A recent report from the consulting firm McKinsey affirms that if women’s health has long been considered a “niche market” – although it concerns half of humanity – things are starting to change, with key, too, “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 by 2025, according to Frost & Sullivan.
However, this very supervised sector of health and well-being still has 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 scientific validity of certain applications
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 it represents big investments, which is also why not everyone does it”.
“We often talk about the CE marking, which indicates that a particular 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. Indeed, even if the European GDPR regulation protects the use of health data, there are “a vagueness in which providers are engulfed” who will sometimes prefer to speak of “well-being” dataunderlines Lydia Morlet-Haïdara, director of the Law and Health Institute of the University of Paris, a digital specialist.
“When you download an app, you accept the general conditions of use and give your consent: after that, everything depends on what you authorize“, warns Ms. Morlet-Haïdara, of the importance of reading in detail these famous “CGU”.
Not all illnesses 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 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 , it exists “however a certain deficit in the analysis according to gender”.
A phenomenon that is not without consequences: the McKinsey report notes that women have “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 genders?”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, 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 not clinically tested, it could harm the whole sector”she judges.
As proof, the actress and well-being guru Gwyneth Paltrow distinguished herself a few years ago with vagina “eggs” from her Goop brand, presented for a time, without scientific validation, as a solution to regulate the cycle. menstrual. However, in 2018, the American star’s brand was condemned for false advertising.