Challenges And Opportunities In Advancing Women’s Health


Here are four areas where life sciences companies — particularly those with a digital focus — can create value in the women’s health market.

Rolf Fricker, Dr. Clemens Freytag, and Nathalie Ausch

5 min read

Movements to address women’s health issues have ebbed and flowed in recent years. Venture capital firms are directing money toward digital start-ups while other innovators and governments are ramping up efforts, most recently in the US where the Biden administration last November launched its Women’s Health Research initiative. The aim is to spur private and public sector funding to help close the gender health gap.

Despite these developments, women’s health remains underfunded, under researched, and underdeveloped when it comes to new products and services. This doesn’t have to be the case. The healthcare industry can — and should — allocate more resources toward addressing a broad set of health issues facing women. Doing so will not only address health equity but would open new growth opportunities for healthcare organizations, especially life sciences companies.

Companies that want to be market leaders must be strategic in their thinking. For some, that could mean developing new therapeutics or digital solutions; for others it could mean funding or partnering with a start-up that has an advanced capability. Whichever direction executives choose, the goal should be the same: driving more equitable outcomes.

Lack of investment in women’s health

For far too long, the industry has had a limited view of women’s health. Gynecological and reproductive health have driven the research agenda, drug development, care delivery, and coverage decisions. Beyond that, overall spending on understanding women’s health issues is low. Consider, for instance, that in the US, the federal government spends twice as much on researching diseases that mainly affect men compared to those that impact women. The dearth of data has resulted in worse health outcomes for women across a range of conditions.

At the same time, several life sciences companies have curtailed investments in the women’s health market. Teva in 2017 and 2018 sold off its women’s health business. That was followed by the spinoff of Organon from Merck in 2021. AbbVie and Bayer have also reportedly shifted funding away from research on women’s health.

These steps, among other things, have contributed to stagnation when it comes to innovation in drug development. Across infertility, endometriosis, menopause, contraception, polycystic ovary syndrome, and female sexual dysfunction, nearly all the growth has been in non-innovative therapeutics — mainly reformulations or extensions of currently existing products. And of the four innovations currently in clinical trials, only two are for novel drugs.

Global Phase III trials in women’s health

Notes: Women’s health includes infertility, endometriosis, menopause, contraception, PCOS, and female sexual dysfunction

Non-innovative is defined as reformulations, alternative delivery, or extensions of currently existing products

Source: Trialtrove, Oliver Wyman analysis

Women’s health is a growth market

It’s not all bad news though. In fact, we are optimistic about the women’s health market and believe life sciences companies can help move the needle. When we set out to write this article, we first asked: “Do market opportunities exist beyond contraception?” The unequivocal answer is yes.

Exhibit 2: Commercial growth opportunities

Sources: FemHealth Insights, Oliver Wyman analysis

A study by Women’s Health Access Matters estimates that a $300 million investment into research focused on three areas the predominately impact women — Alzheimer’s disease–related dementias, coronary artery disease, and rheumatoid arthritis — could improve health outcomes and generate $13 billion in economic return.

It’s that kind of potential that appears to be attracting private equity and venture capital. By some estimates, investments in women’s health grew by 314% between 2018 and 2023. Critically, during the third quarter, $435 million was invested in non-fertility start-ups. Femtech companies — technology companies that specialize in diagnostic tools, wearables, and software — are helping to lead this charge. The total number of femtech companies is hard to capture but the market size could hit $50 billion by 2025. Early solutions cut across a range of areas, including fertility and wellbeing. Increasingly, investments are expanding to such conditions as mental health and menopause.

4 areas for value creation

Although the women’s health landscape is vast, there are four areas where we think life sciences companies — particularly those with a digital focus — can create value.

Wellbeing and preventative care: Companies that take a holistic view of women’s health can become market leaders. That means combining traditional treatment-based approaches with things that are generally viewed as lifestyle choices like diet, exercise, and mindfulness. Big technology companies are playing a role here, albeit somewhat limited. Apple and Fitbit, for instance, have built menstruation trackers into their devices. We are also seeing startups like Maven take a virtual-first approach to providing care around fertility, pregnancy, adoption, and pediatrics.

Menopause: More than one billion women worldwide will go through menopause by 2025, although women experiencing menopause-like symptoms earlier in life could drive those numbers higher. There are a range of apps aiming to help guide women through various stages of menopause. Other digital solutions on the market include devices from companies like Madorra that offer non-hormonal therapy for vaginal dryness. The global market is expected to reach $24.4 billion by 2030, up from $15.4 billion in 2021. That growth will be driven by demographic shifts as well as increased awareness about symptoms associated with menopause.

Fertility and reproductive health: Femtech startups have entered this market, with solutions that include home fertility tests; wearable devices that track and provide real-time data on blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and heart rate during pregnancy; and telehealth for postpartum care. One burgeoning area is the use of artificial intelligence to aid fertility. Globally, infertility rates in women range between 7% to 30%, depending on age and location. AI is being used can be used innovative ways, like developing personalized protocols for IVF and assessing the viability of individual embryos. AI is also being used to detect and diagnose such gynaecological disorders as PCOS and endometriosis.

Contraception and menstrual health: There are opportunities here to lead development of next generation contraception, moving beyond sterilization, condoms, and IUDs. We’ve identified three areas that could disrupt this segment. The first is introduction of hormone-free contraceptives. Drugs are in various stages of clinical trials. Then there are subscription models that can both bolster medication adherence with home delivery of therapeutics, telemedicine for advice, and apps to monitor menstruation cycles. Lastly, there’s direct-to-consumer models. This year, the US will join a growing number of nations that makes a birth control pill available over the counter. And femtech companies like Tuune and Adyn are striking a balance between personalized care and prescription delivery.

How to succeed in new women’s healthcare markets

To succeed in the new women’s healthcare markets, it is important to consider several key factors and make strategic recommendations. Below we highlight a set of recommendations that can help companies to enhance the understanding and development of the women's health market:

1. Investment in women’s health research: The current level of investment in women's health research is inadequate. We need to explore new models. Public-private partnerships like those used in the development of infectious disease treatments serve as a roadmap. By adopting a public-private partnership model, we can attract more funding and resources to advance research in women’s health, leading to innovative solutions and improved outcomes.

2. Evolving market of menopause: The market for menopause-related products and services has the potential to become a billion-dollar industry. It is crucial to thoroughly examine all aspects of menopause, including its impact on health, employment, co-morbidities, family dynamics, mental health, and the broader macroeconomic implications. This comprehensive understanding will enable the development of new ecosystems and business models that cater to the diverse needs of menopausal individuals and their stakeholders.

3. Ethical considerations in underdeveloped regions: Women’s health issues in underdeveloped regions require special attention. It is essential to address the ethical aspects of providing healthcare services and products in these regions. This includes ensuring accessibility, affordability, and cultural sensitivity. Collaborative efforts involving governments, non-governmental organizations, and healthcare organizations can help grow these markets and improve the health outcomes of women in underprivileged areas.

4. Multistakeholder involvement and technological integration: To fully capitalize on the potential of the women's health market, a more complex and integrated model is needed. This model should involve multiple stakeholders, including healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, medical technology firms, software developers, and other relevant industries. By leveraging a broader range of technologies, such as medication, medical devices, software solutions, and digital platforms, we can create a comprehensive ecosystem that addresses the diverse needs of women’s health.

By acting on these recommendations, companies can foster innovation, drive equitable outcomes, and unlock the full potential of the women’s health market. It is crucial to prioritize investment in research, understand the evolving landscape of menopause, address ethical considerations, and embrace a collaborative and technology-driven approach.