World Population Day: Top 5 EIC-funded femtech startups changing Women's Health future
The World Population Day is celebrated every 11 July to raise awareness on global population issues. This year's celebration focuses on women and girls' reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities during the pandemic. With COVID, while some countries face a baby boom, others continue to have low fertility rates. And, even if their problems are different, both imply and need the prioritisation of reproductive health and female wellness. Luckily, many EIC-funded startups are already changing the femtech world with wearable devices, medical treatments, and informative apps able to provide data-driven decisions. The EIC Community gathered 5 EIC companies bringing support and diversity into women's health future to mark this special date.
Pregnolia: a diagnostic medical device determining the risk of premature birth
Premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy) is a global, yet unsolved, problem. On top of the associated suffering and long-term societal consequences, PTB is associated with more than €50,000 in healthcare costs per premature baby, which translates into total yearly costs for the healthcare system of €20 billion in Europe and €23 billion in the USA. To address this challenge, the Swiss Pregnolia AG specialises in the early diagnosis of premature birth.
The Pregnolia System is based on a ground-breaking application of a novel concept: cervical stiffness as a bioindicator for premature birth. Early data from clinical trials demonstrate that cervical stiffness provides a more accurate prediction of a possible premature birth than measuring cervical length. The Pregnolia System is a reliable and user-friendly device that measures cervical stiffness with a handheld probe using negative pressure.
According to Sabrina Badir, CEO of Pregnolia, and Francisco Delgado, VP R&D of the company, the uniqueness of the Pregnolia System relies on its novel method to measure cervical tissue stiffness, a characteristic that clinicians would traditionally evaluate by palpation, which is rather unreliable.
"Like the knot of a balloon, the cervix is what maintains the baby safely inside the uterus throughout pregnancy. If the cervix fails, the baby is born prematurely. Increasing clinical data show that cervical stiffness is an important biomechanical parameter in the assessment of the risk of premature birth, as the current methods, namely by measuring the length of the cervix with an ultrasound, end up not detecting many of the women that deliver before term", they mentioned.
The two EIC innovators believe that research in women's health, in particular reproductive health, has traditionally been overlooked, and despite the impressive medical advances, preterm birth diagnostics is still in its infancy.
"Preterm birth has been – and still is – one of the biggest challenges in modern obstetrics, both in developing and developed countries. And like in many other areas of women's health, the innovation in pregnancy care advances way too slowly. This was our motivation and incentive to act – to help address an issue that affects many pregnant women around the world, and the frustration compounded it we felt from the obstetricians who lack solutions to help their patients", concluded.
Metabolomic Diagnostics: a blood test that can detect preterm preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is a disorder specific to pregnancy, which occurs in approximately 5% of pregnancies. The condition originates in the placenta and manifests as new-onset hypertension and proteinuria after 20 weeks of gestation. It remains a leading cause of maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality, resulting in the deaths each year of 70,000 mothers and 500,000 infants as a direct consequence of Pre-Eclampsia. MDx, a biotech startup based in Ireland, has developed PrePsia™: a simple blood test that identifies a pregnant mother's risk of preterm preeclampsia up to 5 months before most women display clinical symptoms.
Hillary Cronin, Chief Innovation Officer of Metabolomic Diagnostics, explains that using this simple tool to personalise pregnancy care, including the initiation of treatments in early pregnancy, can dramatically reduce the incidence of preterm preeclampsia up to 62%.
"Current clinical practice is simply not identifying those at risk adequately. Metabolomic Diagnostics addresses this unmet clinical need by developing a simple blood test taken early in pregnancy that identifies those at risk. This allows clinicians to personalise care and improve pregnancy outcomes. Metabolomic Diagnostics ambition is to make pregnancy safer for all".
Hillary highlights that Women's reproductive health has been underfunded for generations and affirms that now is the time to change that.
"Society needs to recognise that the start of life is one of the most precious times, and we need to make it safer. Metabolomic Diagnostics are working to Improve pregnancy outcomes globally", she added.
Annaida: increasing success rates in IVF
Infertility is one of the most prevalent health problems in people of reproductive age. The in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is an option, but the most used method proves to be inefficient due to selecting the wrong embryo and repeated fertilisation cycles.
To address this challenge, a fast, non-invasive and quantitative embryo screening, providing patients with an improved overall IVF experience, is being developed by Annaida. The Swiss EIC-funded company is working on a technology that can better assess an embryo's vitality, thus increasing the chance of pregnancy after a single treatment cycle. Talking about its innovative technology, Gora Conley, CEO and Co-founder of Annaida, told us that once he realised their breakthrough technology could really solve this problem, he was motivated to start this adventure and company:
"We were inspired to start the venture and translate the lab technology into a useful medical product", he mentioned.
Gora believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an important message about science and will definitely change Women's health future:
"The changing social trends, such as couples delaying childbearing, are making reproductive health an inevitably growing concern. However, the pandemic has reminded us how science and technology can offer previously inconceivable solutions".
Endodiag: a new diagnostic method for endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic disease affecting a considerable percentage of women during their reproductive age. The currently most used method to identify the disease is an invasive surgical procedure performed under general anaesthesia (laparoscopy). Endodiag, a French startup, is working on a new endometriosis diagnostic solution called EndoSearch. The non-invasive diagnostic test assesses the presence or absence of endometriosis without surgery, helping the physician make a quicker diagnosis. The company aims to diagnose better, provide more personalised assistance, and more efficient treatment options and fertility strategies.
Cécile Real, CEO and Co-Founder of the company, explains that Endodiag has a team full of diverse knowledge, bringing all unique value to the topic.
"We have a multidisciplinary group with different types of expertise, and we have also built connections with patient groups. This holistic work helps to make us unique and to approach the disease in a broader way", she stated.
Cécile believes that Europe needs to raise more awareness on this topic to develop the treatment options further.
"It is very important to have initiatives like the one from the EIC. I think they should be promoted even more. Gathering more resources, having a better understanding on the scientific level, improving communication and raising awareness are the key points to keep successfully developing in this field", concluded.
Aspivix: gentle gynaecological cervical device
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) might be one of the most effective forms of birth control. Still, they are generally avoided by women due to complications with placement, including pain, bleeding and cross-contamination. Aspivix, a Swiss company funded by the EIC, brings a revolutionary surgical instrument to the market to replace the tenaculum, the standard cervical forceps.
Carevix, created by the Swiss startup, is a next-generation suction-based cervical device used during gynaecological procedures, including IUD placement. With this innovation, discomfort and risks will be reduced for patients, and the IUD placement procedure will be faster.
Andrea Albornoz, Head of Global Marketing & Sales of Aspivix, told us their work is driven by the willingness to fill a gap in women's healthcare by Improving the Delivery of Care to Patients in Gynaecology.
"We need to find diverse solutions that meet the contraceptive needs of the different population groups across the globe. Additionally, we need to tackle the education gap around family planning. We believe that digital health solutions need to be developed to address the education gap".
The EIC Community calendar marks World International Days on a regular basis, celebrating successful EIC-funded innovations from different topics. On 28 July, the annual World Hepatitis Day will be observed to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer. If you have an innovation connected to this topic, share your story with us via our helpdesk (please select the category 'Propose a story/an article).