Femtech: technology enhancing women's health

By Jane Allman
Tuesday, 03 August, 2021

Femtech: technology enhancing women's health

Femtech — technologies specifically designed to positively impact women’s health — has the potential to radically improve health outcomes for women globally. Incorporating artificial intelligence, machine learning, software, diagnostics, products and services, femtech is an emerging industry that is already shifting medical practice.

Despite working for 50% of the world’s population, femtech is an underserved industry, attracting only 10% of investment funding.

AI can have a profound impact on women’s health outcomes, in areas including ovarian, breast and cervical cancers, assistive reproduction, endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Adelaide-based company Presagen has demonstrated just what AI has to offer when it comes to women’s health. The company’s software-based scalable AI technology is designed to be delivered globally at low cost, to maximise reach to women across the world.

In the field of IVF, Presagen’s Life Whisperer technology uses AI to analyse images of embryos, selecting the healthiest ones to improve pregnancy outcomes for couples struggling with fertility. Built via machine learning using thousands of images, the product assesses two-dimensional or microscope images of embryos and provides a confidence score on the likelihood that a pregnancy will result. Life Whisperer was awarded Frost & Sullivan’s 2019 Global New Product Innovation Award.

Presagen’s AI Open Projects is an online platform that connects clinics from around the world to safely crowdsource globally diverse datasets needed to build AI medical products that are robust, scalable and unbiased. The financial value that is created from economies of scale can then be shared amongst contributing clinics via royalties. This enables clinics, particularly small and medium-sized clinics, to benefit and unlock the value of their data with AI without wearing the technical or commercial cost and risk.

“To build AI products that solve global problems, you need a global dataset which is diverse and represents different types of people and clinical settings. This is challenging because data privacy laws can prevent private medical data leaving the country of origin,” Presagen CEO Dr Michelle Perugini said. “As a result, many focus on building AI from local datasets that are not diverse, creating AI that will be biased and simply will not scale.”

Q&A with Dr Michelle Perugini

Dr Michelle Perugini is Co-founder and CEO of Presagen AI Enhanced Healthcare, a company that is collaboratively and globally building scalable AI to achieve better clinical outcomes for women. Dr Perugini is an expert in health, medical research and AI, with a PhD in Medicine. She is winner of the AI in Health Award at this year’s Women in AI Awards ANZ.

Please describe what femtech means to you and why it’s so important for women’s health.

Femtech to me is about bringing the power of technology to improving women’s healthcare outcomes globally. It is both an honour and a privilege to serve this industry. Historically, women’s health care has been underserved, with clinical trials historically excluding female participants. There is now a renewed narrative in femtech about inclusion and recognition that women’s health issues are both unique and important. Presagen is passionate about building healthcare solutions that are focused on women’s health.

What is the main reason for male bias in drug development and health care in general?

The main reason is that, historically, clinical trials have excluded female participants due to their biological complexity. Women have therefore been subjected to studies and treatments that perhaps work well on men but have not been specifically evaluated for women. Because of this bias, many women’s health problems have been ignored altogether. Similarly, traditional venture capital funding has historically considered women’s health issues and femtech to be niche industries not capable of returning venture-like returns. This is changing and there is a renewed focus on femtech in the funding community.

How can clinical trials be better designed to ensure women are better represented?

Diversity is critical for any clinical trial — trials should include a clinically relevant balance of genders. This should be mandated by regulators.

How can AI help to positively impact women’s health outcomes?

AI requires data diversity in order to scale to different patient demographics and clinical outcomes, and therefore naturally promotes the need for women to be represented in datasets. Presagen is having a big impact in the fertility sector and in women’s health more broadly.

What are the main challenges to achieving gender equality in health care?

It is partly to do with the funding mechanisms, partly to do with the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in large healthcare companies, and partly due to women’s health care being poorly understood by men. We need more women standing up and taking leadership roles, and being proponents for other women in the sector, and for driving improved women’s healthcare outcomes.

What is the AI Open Projects platform and how it is being used by clinics?

Presagen is building the social network for health care. Our platform facilitates the safe and secure connection of medical clinics and their data globally, in order to create scalable AI medical products with a specific focus in women’s health care. The platform has demonstrated the power of this collaborative data approach at being able to get the right data, and globally diverse data to build products that are scalable. Presagen’s first products are in the fertility sector under its Life Whisperer group of products. Life Whisperer Viability uses AI to assess embryos and predict likelihood of a pregnancy resulting during IVF, and Life Whisperer Genetics non-invasively assesses the genetic integrity of embryos using computer vision and AI rather than an invasive, risky and costly biopsy and genetic screening procedure. Both products are approved in 60% of the world’s markets and are already impacting clinical practice and patient outcomes globally.

What does it mean to receive such an accolade as the Women in AI Award?

Winning this award means so much. It is recognition not only for the amazing work we are doing as a company, but also in building awareness in women’s health and its importance. It is such an honour to be a role model for other female entrepreneurs forging a better path to improving women’s health and leadership participation.

Grand Award First runner-up Dr Michelle Perugini with WAI Awards 2021 Advisory Group Awards Patron The Hon Julie Bishop (left)
and Professor Joanna Batstone, Director Monash Data Futures Institute (right).

How do you see AI serving health care into the future?

Within the next decade, AI will impact every healthcare subsector. The power of AI is to create clinical efficiency, derive new clinical insights, enable personalised medicine, provide clinical decision support and improve overall healthcare outcomes. It is an amazing time for AI in health care, with many benefits to be realised over the coming years.

Main image caption: ©stock.adobe.com/au/christophkadur

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