Sure, the Consumer Electronics Show had the snazziest new wearables and fitness gear, but the show this year also debuted new advancements in what’s known as “femtech.” This is technology targeted at health issues affecting cisgender women, as well as some intersex and transgender people.
It’s an area with historic underinvestment, but some companies in this space are now getting a lot of attention. For example, Clue, the menstrual cycle tracking app, which has around 12 million users.
In 2020, only about 3% of all health-tech funding went to this space. But that may be changing.
Monique Mrazek is a senior global health tech industry specialist for the International Finance Corp., which is part of the World Bank Group.
I asked Mrazek about what “femtech” encompasses. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Monique Mrazek: So typically it includes women’s health, and oftentimes, it’s including solutions in and around fertility, pregnancy and even health care management of babies and infants.
Kimberly Adams: How big is this sector right now?
Mrazek: You know, it’s really been growing. It’s been largely underserved for a number of years. There’s broad estimates that sort of put the market anywhere sort of between $10 billion and $20 billion today, and estimates are putting it upwards of $50 billion to $65 billion by 2025 to 2027.
Adams: Wow —
Adams: And which areas seem to be getting the most investment within the femtech sector?
Mrazek: A lot of dollars have flowed into the solutions that we were mentioning. So around fertility, around cycle tracking, cancer screenings, and contraceptives have been another area.
Adams: Are there any particular companies that really stand out as getting a lot of attention or resources at the moment?
Mrazek: So I think for ourselves, meaning the World Bank Group, as we’ve been seeing sort of this upward trend in focus on women’s health, we’ve also continued to focus our attention on the needs of women, especially in low-resource settings. And this year, we decided we really wanted to bring attention on what we see as a largely underserved need for women in our markets. So part of the CES awards this year that we ran with the Consumer Technology Association, the World Bank and IFC, we had four winners come out of that with some really interesting solutions. We had a company called InnAccel, which has an AI-powered fetal heart rate monitor, which is particularly useful in low-resource settings. So in markets that are really relevant for the World Bank Group. And we had two winners that were in the breast cancer screening category. The idea, I think, with most of these digital health solutions is that when you bring these services to patients or to women in their home, the objective ultimately should be to reduce costs and improve good quality of care.
Adams: What’s the role of femtech, say, in a market like here in the U.S. versus in some of these emerging markets that you were talking about?
Mrazek: Often the needs are not so dissimilar, frankly. When you think about areas like cervical cancer screening, obviously, that happens with regularity in developed markets, like the U.S., and may not be so accessible in emerging markets. Where the gaps are is in the access to the technology that can enable that screening to happen on a regular basis. And if you take something like breast cancer screening, and you have a high prevalence of breast cancer for women in developing countries, what happens, unfortunately, is that most of the screening today is still done by self-examination. And so you frequently find women who have developed stage 3, stage 4 breast cancer, and you have a high prevalence of poor outcomes as a result. So what we want to try to do with this technology is actually try to find solutions that enable the screenings to happen earlier and more regularly as they do in the U.S.
Related Links: More insight from Kimberly Adams
You can read more about the winners Mrazek was talking about on the Consumer Electronics Show website.
Here’s a blog post from PitchBook with an overview of where the femtech industry is right now. According to PitchBook data, investors have pumped more that $15 billion into this sector as of November.
The New York Times had a piece in April of last year about femtech as part of it’s “Future of Health Care” series — pointing out the term itself is said to have be coined by the founder of that Clue app I mentioned earlier, Ida Tin.
But as handy as the term is for journalists like me to describe the sector, one of our producers pointed me to a post on the Yale School of Medicine’s student blog, which argues the term is kind of limiting. The author points out most of the current femtech market is dominated by products for sexual and reproductive health, and warns that by limiting tech advancements in women’s health to just that part of health, “we lose sight of many other important health issues women face every day.”
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