Women’s Health, Decoded.
Dr. Piraye Yurttas Beim, CEO, Celmatix
It’s an exciting time for women’s health. In the ten short years since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that teenage girls be vaccinated for HPV, infections in this population are already down by 64 percent. During the same decade, advances in egg freezing and other reproductive technologies have allowed women to extend and maximize their fertility in ways that were not imaginable to previous generations. There has also been a surge in consumer apps, providing women with unprecedented insight into their menstrual cycles through their smartphones. And periods are finally coming out of the closet, no longer a taboo subject in the media. They even have their own hashtag, #periods.
Things were very different when I was growing up in Texas in the 1980s and 90s. I learned about my reproductive health through a dog-eared copy of an article in Seventeen magazine that was passed around the girls in my 6th grade class called something to the tune of “Your First Gynecologist Visit.” When my periods started a few years later, they came with a vengeance, and I was diagnosed with endometriosis at age 15.
I was prescribed pain-killers and, later, hormonal contraceptives, but my periods continued to be debilitating. Also, like most women suffering in silence each month, I was never counseled that endometriosis and painful periods are a risk factor for infertility, heart disease, and cancer. Endometriosis affects over 10% of all women, and yet only received $10 million dollars in research funding from the NIH in 2015. Recently, it has received more attention as celebrities like Lena Dunham and Daisy Ridley have taken to social media with similar stories about their struggles. But there is still much work to be done, as significant disparities still exist for women’s health.
For example, it is well established that women metabolize drugs differently than men, and yet, less than half of all animal studies on anxiety and depression use female lab animals. Females also still make up only a small minority of clinical trial participants and are, thus, are much more likely than males to experience adverse drug reactions. In fact when the effects of alcohol in combination with the female-prescribed drug Addyi (aka the female viagra) were studied, participants included 23 men and only two women. You read that correctly, two women.
Meanwhile, as the era of technology and big data marches on, many women still use a single data point to make the life-defining decision of when to start a family: age. I founded Celmatix, a personalized medicine company focused on fertility and women’s health, because I think we can, and must, do better for women.
And doing better for women is not only (as our investors believe) great business, but it also has the potential to catalyze huge waves of technology disruption across all of healthcare. Women are the gatekeepers of healthcare. They not only utilize the majority of healthcare, in part because of reproductive services, but they also make the majority of healthcare decisions for their families. The male dominated world of technology startups learned this years ago. They may not hire very many women, or promote them to the highest ranks of their executive teams, but they certainly know who their customers are. It is, therefore, baffling that the healthcare industry and the investors that power it are only slowly waking up to these opportunities.
At Celmatix, we are focused on empowering women to make more informed decisions about their reproductive health based on their unique biology and not age alone. And ultimately, a woman’s reproductive health is the cornerstone of her overall health as reproductive hormones and age of menopause influence everything from cardiovascular disease risk to diabetes and cancer risk. Also, if we can teach women and the physicians who care for them how to engage with clinical and genomic data, this will accelerate engagement with personalized medicine across disciplines.
So this is a declaration of a new moonshot initiative. Ladies (and gentlemen), who is with me?