The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of telehealth in the U.S., and digital health investment soared in 2021.
But the pandemic also had a devastating economic impact on women across the globe. Pregnant and recently pregnant people are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Meanwhile, though investment in the space is growing, femtech still makes up a small portion of digital health deals overall.
But the growing attention to that disparity might mean more opportunities in the space, said Kenneth Nelson, head of digital health, diagnostics and monitoring at Biotronik.
“I think if you’re a female founder or a female entrepreneur right now, or somebody who has an idea for a women’s health technology, there’s a huge opportunity right now,” he said on a panel at CES.
“There’s a lot more focus on the fact that there’s not as much money going to female-founded companies. So when people look at that, now that there’s more attention to it, if you have an interesting company, now’s the time to try to raise capital.”
Eric Dy, cofounder and CEO of Bloomlife, said there are more resources for women’s health companies compared to 2014, when his company was founded.
“When we started the company, and we would go pitch investors about a women’s health company, they would be like, there’s not a market in women’s health. What are you talking about?” Dy said. “And to now, where there’s dedicated women’s health funds. There’s dedicated women’s health conferences.”
Connecting with clinicians is also important to get technologies adopted, and that’s one area where professional societies can help, said Christina Wurster, CEO of Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.
“I think the ultimate goal, the mission of our organizations is to improve care and health outcomes. But we can’t do that without innovation and therapeutics and things like that. I think part of the challenge that we’re in is that they [companies] don’t even want to seek indications for pregnant women in particular, because they’re perceived to be a vulnerable population,” she said.
“And you’re concerned about the safety profile or complications, but we’re trying to get the message out there that the majority of pregnancies are healthy, and that they’re not a vulnerable population. So we need to improve inclusion in clinical trials, to get the data to support and I think that will allow the market to grow.”
The expansion of telehealth and remote care tech will be an important shift in the space over the next few years, Dy said.
“The continued growth of telehealth, the deployment of remote patient monitoring solutions through clinical channels and the data that’s being collected from here — the potential for that is starting to be unlocked,” he said. “And I think that’s really the huge turning point for a lot of these conditions that are really hard to predict today, hard to manage. Preterm birth being the biggest one.”
That means high-speed internet access will be increasingly valuable, which remains out of reach for some populations, particularly those in rural areas.
“I think the real real game changers, particularly for maternal mortality, are going to be in the increase of broadband access. You know, simple infrastructure things,” Wurster said.