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Spotlight on women’s health and fertility

By Hamid Yunis, UK Managing Partner, McDermott Will & Emery



The growing interest from investors in exploring opportunities in Women’s Health and Fertility as a subset of healthcare has been driving elevated dealflow in recent years.

The global fertility services market alone was valued at circa $16bn in 2015 and is expected to reach $31bn by 2023.

There is also a growing body of work taking place around areas like cancer care, medical devices and radiotherapy, where underlying data on women versus men has tended to be weak.

We were delighted to have hosted a panel at our Healthcare Private Equity 2022 (Europe) conference in London to discuss opportunities for investment and the increasing innovation in Women’s Health.

Equally important was to discuss ways of overcoming barriers.

The Opportunity

There is a mounting appreciation of the need for more focus on Women’s Health. Dr Michelle Tempest is a partner at Candesic, one of the leading providers of commercial due diligence for private equity transactions, and told HPE 2022:

“Historically, on the R&D side, women have never really been well represented. There are many reasons for that but we now see that becoming more inclusive.”

She adds:

“In healthcare, even today if a female of menopausal age turns up in the emergency department with a vascular event, she will experience a poorer outcome than a male in the same situation.

“That is unless she is seen by a female doctor.

“The exciting thing is that there is now a realisation that things must change, and it will change.”

Opportunities in Women’s Health span the ecosystem and include everything from medical devices – where companies are developing surgical equipment for female surgeons and practitioners who may have smaller frames and different requirements to male surgeons and practitioners – to digital health, where a growing number of tools are being developed to support women with body literacy and healthcare access.

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Olympic champion and three-times world champion heptathlete and a female icon in her own right, is the founder of Jennis, a business and app that helps women exercise in line in particular, with their menstrual cycle.

Jessica spoke at HPE 2022, and said:

“Within the sporting world, I was privileged to be able to access great training staff and to become very in tune with my own body.

“Beyond that, I found a lack of general understanding of the menstrual cycle and the impact that has on how and when you should train, and it felt like a taboo subject.

“I wanted to take that learning from elite sport and couple it with more global health intelligence so that other women can be in a better position to understand their bodies and know how to move and respond.”

The reproductive sector is one that has proved particularly active for private equity investors around the world.

“Fertility services are seeing an escalating demand as the global incidence of infertility rises alongside drivers like the trend of delaying pregnancy, technological advances in fertility procedures, increases in disposable income and more same-sex couples turning to treatment.

Richard Banks is Group Chief Strategy Officer and European Managing Director at Virtus Health, one of the largest IVF providers in the world.

                                          Hamid Yunis

He told HPE 2022 that there is a need for a change in approach:

“One thing we can do when it comes to Women’s Health is change our perspective a little bit.

The fertility sector is quite interventionist, and healthcare as a whole can be interventionist.

We have got to start thinking about Women’s Health more as a life journey and align our services around that.

“We should be embracing strategic alliances and joint ventures within this space to almost create more of a health ecosystem.”

Fostering innovation

One challenge is to encourage innovation in this part of the ecosystem.

Angela Spang is the founder of surgical device company June Medical and of Mosaic Surgical, which offers clinicians and medtech innovators a faster route to market for their medical device ideas.

Angela said at the event:

“For every female innovator that comes to me, I am seeing 10 men. That is not because women are less innovative – the solutions are there – but the route is somehow different. There is something magical missing.

“How are we going to make sure the innovations that we are supporting find themselves into regular use? We are missing a trick.”

Dr. Tempest added:

“There has historically been an issue around female founders and CEOs being able to get investment.

“I personally think that will change, and we will start to see more women wanting to support other women.”

Overcoming barriers

Another barrier has been a lack of data on Women’s Health, which has stood in the way of developing solutions around funding and priorities.

Most pharmaceutical trials have primarily been conducted on men, and only now is research taking place to track and measure female hormone levels across their lifetimes.

With women already recognised as the biggest spenders on the high street, and set to become the biggest spenders on healthcare, it will be an opportunity lost if investment does not flow into women’s healthcare innovators and founders.

Dame Ennis-Hill argued that there is a huge education for underpinning the investment opportunity.

She said:

“So many women don’t actually know that their menstrual cycle has four phases and each impacts the body differently.

“If we can get women more confident about talking about their hormonal health, they will become more autonomous talking about other areas of health as women as well.”

Investors, too, need education, Dame Ennis-Hill said:

“Women make up about 50 per cent of the population and we know that we feel different in different phases of our lives, but being able to verbalise and quantify that is often quite hard. We feel we have to explain more.

“But it is good to see this is now a growing area, with a spotlight firmly on it, and there is more research money flowing into female health.”

Attitudes to fertility treatment and menstrual health awareness vary across cultures, creating a disjointed investment climate that is compounded by fragmented regulatory regimes and disparate reimbursement models.

However, it is still fair to say that the level of involvement by private equity in Women’s Health has increased significantly, over the past five years, and the segment continues to grow and offer exciting opportunities going forward.

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