di , 24/01/2024

In the realm of digital health, there’s a glaring lack of understanding about the background and current state of women’s health research.

Historically, women were excluded from drug trials due to concerns about potential fetal harm and economic factors related to data collection and side effect reporting. Even today, women experience more drug-related adverse events than men. Until recently, women’s disorders were dismissed as ‘hysteria’, perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
Diseases like migraines and endometriosis receive disproportionately low funding compared to their burden. Heart disease symptoms in women are often misdiagnosed, leading to undertreatment.
The Lancet highlighted long-term childbirth consequences affecting millions of women, exacerbated by a lack of high-quality guidelines, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
HIV trials also show underrepresentation of women. While recognition of these gaps is growing, concerted efforts are needed to ensure women’s inclusion in clinical research and advance femtech initiatives. Reflecting on historical facts can guide meaningful progress in women’s health research.

I feel like there is so much going on in the femtech space that I can’t possibly wait another 7 days in January with the risk of never finishing my article.

As always, I would like to share a quick resume of what is going on in the women’s health industry. The idea is to give an overview of the landscape, put together a condensed summary, and highlight the main points of what has happened in the space. The news is connected to new care programs, digital therapies, reports, and startup investments.

On January 9th, Canada launches the first self-screening cervical cancer plan in British Columbia.

A province-wide screening in British Columbia will allow women to order a quick, easy, and highly accurate test kit to use at home and will allow them to access a network of highly trained and compassionate medical professionals who will support those identified as being at higher risk. (Also, on January 19, the Femtech Canada initiative launches to support women’s health ventures.)

Also biotech research company Qvin announced the first ever FDA approval for a pad for menstrual blood health testing.

The Q-pad offers a less invasive and more accessible alternative to a blood test and, more importantly, makes a very important step to use menstrual blood (historically neglected in research) for healthcare screening purposes.

On January 10th, Flo publishes groundbreaking research in Nature NPJ Mental Health, exploring the effects of acute stress on pain perception among women during the Russia-Ukraine conflict (based on de-identified data from over 88k Flo users in Ukraine).

Higher stress levels were linked to lower pain sensitivity. This discovery is the first documented real-life example of extreme stress being connected to reduced pain sensitivity, ‘or’stress-induced analgesia’, and the first study to explore SIA in a real-world setting.

On January 17th, McKinsey releases a fundamental report on the $1 trillion opportunity to close the women’s health gap.

The report highlights that women spend 25% more time in poor health compared to men, with 64% of interventions resulting in disadvantages due to access issues or lower effectiveness. Women’s health research often overlooks diseases with higher mortality rates and lacks sex- and gender-specific data. Women also face delays in diagnosis, with studies showing it takes 2.5 more years for cancer and 4.5 more years for diabetes. Access to care is also disparate, with women in Switzerland paying 37% more than men. Investors are encouraged to support women-centric research and financing models.

As a response to the report, a new Global Alliance for Women’s Health initiative has been launched, with $55 million allocated to women’s health.

Supported by 42 organizations and pledging $55 million, the alliance responds to a report highlighting the underestimated health burdens faced by women. Investing in women’s health could yield up to $1 trillion annually by 2040, improving outcomes for over 3.9 billion people globally.
The alliance focuses on financing, science and innovation, and agenda-setting, with commitments from governments, philanthropies, and pharmaceutical companies.
Key commitments include $25 million from Tower Capital Group and $30 million from Rotary International for maternal and child health initiatives in several countries.

On January 18th, Kearney and FemTechnology presented their open letter and report for change on redesigning healthcare with women in mind in Davos.

Although women account for 70% of chronic pain patients, (yet of) pain medication has been tested only on men or male mice. On average, women wait 4 years longer than men to receive a diagnosis for the same disease.

The letter encourages action by tackling the public health agenda, building women-centric care pathways, and accelerating investment.

On January 17th, the UK health secretary announced new women’s health priorities for 2024.

Top priorities under the Women’s Health Strategy in 2024 include menstrual problems and menopause, maternity care, and birth trauma support. £50 million for research to tackle maternity disparities through the NIHR research inclusion strategy.

The priorities result from input from healthcare professionals and the public. The strategy aims to break historical barriers, reduce disparities, and enhance overall women’s health, with a renewed focus on menstrual conditions, women’s health research, and support for abuse victims. The government also reappointed Professor Dame Lesley Regan as Women’s Health Ambassador for England, emphasizing the ambition to provide world-class treatment and improve healthcare outcomes for women.

On January 19th, Midi, a startup offering virtual menopause care, raised $60 million in the tough investment market just 4 months after their last founding round.


It’s promising that the historical gap and disregard for women’s health are now recognized, and efforts are being made to address them. I do hope we will start seeing the results in the coming years and decades. It’s quite obvious that we need to involve more women in trials and invest more in women’s technology, but what about small first steps that could have an immediate effect?

I thought of a basic blood test. As a rule, it doesn’t carry information on a woman’s day of cycle, only when the tested values are directly linked to women’s hormones. However, the menstrual cycle can influence various biomarkers in a complete blood count. For example, the leukocyte count increases in the second phase of the cycle. Other parameters that can significantly fluctuate across the cycle are iron, lipids, thyroid hormones, insulin, blood glucose, and even vitamin D.

It could cost little or nothing to include the information on the day of the cycle in each blood test and start yielding results already today, even before we can leverage the collected data for research purposes. Thoughts?