When women’s health becomes a business like any other

(AFP) – From the digital application for monitoring the menstrual cycle to the yoga of hormones, women’s health, long neglected, is a thriving ecosystem, against the backdrop of the rise of “femtechs”. But also an all-encompassing market, about to become a company like any other.

A recent report from the consulting firm McKinsey confirms this: If women’s health has long been considered a “niche market” — even though it affects half of humanity — things are starting to change. , with the most important also being “new opportunities” for investors .

The start-ups specialized in this field, born with the emergence of new technologies, even have a name: “femtech”, a portmanteau of “female” and “technology”. This market would represent $50 billion by 2024, according to Frost & Sullivan.

But at the confluence of health, a highly controlled sector, and well-being, with much more vague rules: special transitional clothes, fertility herbal teas, nutritional supplements, the field of possibilities is immense and does not respond to identical rules.

– Lack of validity –

However, this is one of the problems of companies’ growing interest in women’s health: the lack of scientific validation. A medical device must therefore meet strict standards.

Founder of the young shoot Fizimed, who has developed a probe for perineal rehabilitation, Emeline Hahn has her product validated through a clinical trial.

This does not apply to all her competitors, she laments: “Doing a clinical trial makes it possible to prove the interest of the device and get out of the +gadget+ box. But those are big investments, it’s also why not everyone Do it”.

“We often talk about the CE marking, which makes it possible to indicate that such a product meets the safety standards in force. But it is not a clinical trial that demonstrates its effectiveness. This can be misleading for the consumer,” estimates the entrepreneur.

Another focus, specific to online apps: the issue of confidentiality. Because if the European GDPR regulation does indeed protect the use of health data, there is “a vagueness in which service providers rush” who sometimes prefer to speak of “well-being” data, emphasizes 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 the terms of use and give your consent: beyond that, everything depends on what you authorize,” warns Ms. Morlet-Haïdara. The importance of reading these famous “T&Cs” in detail.

– Neglecting –

However, the development of these offerings comes as a more or less serious response to problems that have gone unsolved for too long. Because women were often regarded by traditionally male doctors as patients with more or less justified accusations. Many studies have analyzed the issue, notably pointing to the historical underrepresentation of women in clinical trials.

For Dr Thomas Borel, Director of Scientific Affairs for the Federation of Pharmaceutical Companies (Leem), if today there is no difference in the desire to include men and women in clinical trials, there is “but a certain deficiency in the analysis by gender “.

A phenomenon that is not without consequences: The McKinsey report finds that women are “twice as likely as men to experience side effects after taking medication”. Excluding oncology, about 1% of health care research and innovation spending is spent on 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, properly diagnosed condition. It’s also one of the bedside pathologies that countless apps are looking for. But the investigation remains in slow motion.

It is the tree that hides the forest, judges Judge Claudine Junien, professor of genetics and member of the Academy of Medicine. “We say we care about women’s health because we’re talking about endometriosis, but what about other diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, where there are significant gender differences?” she asks.

So, “women are nine times more likely to develop lupus erythematosus than men. All drug trials should include male and female animals,” the doctor argues.

There are also cardiovascular risks for women, which are still poorly understood by the general public, regrets Professor Claire Mounier-Vehier, cardiologist, who is striving for a better diagnosis. “When we communicate with a modified language, women learn to recognize their symptoms,” she explains.

In this context, the new health offerings for women represent “a step forward,” Emeline Hahn says. “But if there were a problem with certain products that have not been clinically tested, it could hurt the entire industry,” she said.

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

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