WoW Woman in Fem Tech | Paljit Sohal, Healthcare Director of Consulting at Frost & Sullivan

Interview by Anja Streicher

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Paljit, tell us a little bit about your background and your role at F&S. 

I’ve got over 14 years of research and consulting experience in Healthcare, working with a global client base, including Lifesciences (Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology), Medical Devices and Healthcare IT companies. I have a keen interest and experience in the digital space, including multi-channel marketing, patient engagement, beyond the pill services and Fem Tech. Frost & Sullivan's healthcare team is one of the first market research and consulting company who recognized the market potential of Femtech in contributing to women's health and I’m very proud to be part of it.

F&S’s report on FemTech predicts a market potential of $50 billion by 2025. How do you explain a massive interest in FemTech in recent years and do you think that the society and a whole tech ecosystem are finally starting to recognize that healthcare needs are different for men and women?

Despite all the technology and digital progress achieved in healthcare, there continues to be very little discussion on women’s health, beyond pregnancy and menstruation, indicating that a large unmet need and, in effect, an untapped opportunity exists. Gender has traditionally affected several social determinants of health, including access to education, employment, income, social status, vulnerability to abuse, a difference in health-seeking behavior, access to health services and societal expectations. It has taken time to move away from general social determinants of health to gender-specific social determinants. For several decades, healthcare products and solutions were designed, developed, and delivered without much attention to the fact that the healthcare needs are different for men and women, considering their physiological differences. Often, healthcare companies have a women’s health portfolio, but do not considered the broader concerns surrounding accessibility, affordability, and socio-cultural paradigms that can also play a critical role in making care personalized for the users. 

Currently, there is a wave of change with healthcare companies increasingly recognizing the need to better serve women whether it is for medical needs that are specific to them or bringing in gender specificity for devices and solutions that are common to both women and men.In the past two decades, a greater number of educated women have entered the workforce each year. With the influence women have on global spending, the economy, in developed countries at least, is turning into a SHEconomy. There is a large opportunity for digital health to step in and enable detection of early signs of stress and health predictors that can help women take note of their condition and make lifestyle decisions to manage their health better.

In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the health tech and fem tech industries in the next five years? 

There is increasing interest towards self management and proactive care among women - especially with planning pregnancies, managing fertility as well as chronic conditions such as diabetes, and managing effectively with career as well as personal aspirations.

Reproductive health sector is expanding beyond period tracking apps - solutions for menopause, egg selection, egg freezing, embryo screening, fertility plans with employers/insurers, the scope is huge. Chronic disease management and screening for earlier diagnosis is a growing area. Another upcoming area is women specific genetic testing and wellness including general wellness (pelvic, nutrition, diet, sexual) as well as mental wellbeing.

Majority of the FemTech companies are founded “by women for women”, which is no surprise as there is no one else who understands women's health better than a woman herself. But since most of the VC firms are male-led, how do you think this influences investments in FemTech, what are the challenges for female entrepreneurs in this space and how do we overcome them? 

Women's health is getting more focus definitely - startups have raised more than 1.5 billion in capital over last 5 years in Femtech and pharma-medical device companies are considering gender specific solutions through clinical research / products.

Rather than the issue of VC firms being male-led, to encourage investment, there is a need for more awareness - technically 50% of population is women, however only 1-10% of women may be aware of these solutions; moreover clinicians should be able to use and recommend these solutions as an active part of care delivery - this requires clinical validations, more real world evidence, clinical trials to validate claims and proper assessment / approval by HTAs like US FDA or EMA and more. Also, these companies need to have viable/ scalable business models. Outcomes need to be proven for solutions to survive the hype. We can take example of Naya Health - smart breast pump, that failed to live up to expectations, issues involved inability to raise capital, product issues, poor customer service and supply chain issues. Not rigorously testing the product is also a major issue as solutions can be inaccurate - some of the period apps available on Android/iOS store are merely digital calendars.

Therefore, we should think beyond gender. VC firms are changing and they tend to look and go by logic and data, so therefore it should not matter if FemTech companies are founded women and VC firms are male-led.

When we talk about fertility, for instance, it is often perceived as a woman’s issue and women are often the ones “bearing the burden of infertility”. What can we do to change the perception that women’s health in general is not just a woman’s issue? 

Femtech is not a product or a service; it is an end-to-end solution that can positively impact women’s health and wellbeing. Femtech can make care delivery minimally invasive, less intrusive, assure privacy, increase access to women, while making solutions specific to their needs and encourage self management. 

Femtech is also not limited to reproductive health. It now covers General Healthcare (example – Tia Clinic – Integrated Health network) and Women – specific cancer areas, such as Uterine, ovarian and cervical cancer as well. Some specific start ups for cervical cancer include – Mobile ODT and Periwinkle technologies.These issues go beyond infertility, therefore it should not just be considered just a woman’s issue.

Other than the above, femtech has the potential to find a huge market in diseases that affect women more than men. These disease areas include – Cardiovascular disorders, Rheumatoid arthritis, Mental Health, Multiple sclerosis and Osteoporosis. All these disease have higher prevalence in women. And the US healthcare costs for these diseases indicate an enormous market that lies ahead for femtech to explore. Frost & Sullivan see gender specific solutions for non-communicable diseases a key focus for the future. This is an overlooked area; providing personalized solutions geared towards better addressing disease management problems for women.

Who are your 3 inspirational women/businesses in health tech or fem tech and why? 

Ida Tin, a Danish entrepreneur who founded Clue (period- and fertility-tracking app) in 2016 and coined the term Femtech and essentially started this phenomenon.

Large companies are making waves especially in developing countries such as GE Healthcare’s Vscan™ with Dual Probe - a pocket-sized portable ultrasound machine that has enabled several women patients in developing countries in Africa and India to better manage their pregnancy.

Natural Cycles also led the way with the first mobile application for contraception that received CE approval as a Class 2 Medical Device for first time in 2017 and FDA approval in 2018.

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Website: https://ww2.frost.com/

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Come to our FemTech event in London, 18 September and meet Paljit one of our panelists!

Register your interest for our FemTech and HealthTech events programme starting from September 2019!

This interview was conducted by Anja Streicher, Chief Marketing Officer of Women of Wearables. She is passionate about women's health, supporting women in business and is still trying to figure out how to balance motherhood and business.