Like many categories in the women’s health space, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) has been grossly under researched, underfunded and underserved. Yet 1 in 10 women suffer from this chronic condition, which can lead to several different symptoms, including weight gain, infertility, unwanted body hair, acne and depression. The complexity that surrounds this condition often delays diagnosis and confuses patients. Perla Health wants to reinvent PCOS care by providing women with an open and transparent educational space.
The London-based startup officially launches today after a very active and engaged PCOS awareness month. Perla Health is the brainchild of Kathrin Folkendt, who is the founder of Femtech Insider — a platform that publishes Femtech-related news, shares databases, reports and job openings in the space, and spotlights useful products and services for women. .
“I have PCOS myself, so the company’s mission is very close to my heart,” Folkendt told me in an interview. “I’m really grateful and excited about this opportunity to make a difference for millions of women with PCOS.”
Delayed Diagnosis For PCOS
Folkendt says she was diagnosed with the condition in her early 30s, after struggling with symptoms for years.
“Women often get diagnosed when they are trying to get pregnant,” she said, “as PCOS can cause infertility. In my case, however, I found out about PCOS at my esthetician where I was undergoing a hair removal treatment. There was a pamphlet in the waiting room, which mentioned that women with PCOS may not get the same permanent IPL results.”
Excess androgen shows a hormonal imbalance that can occur during PCOS — elevated levels of male hormones may result in excess facial and body hair, and occasionally, severe acne and male-pattern baldness.
As demonstrated in Folkendt’s case, diagnosing PCOS can be tricky. One model that has become widely recognized to diagnose the condition, however, is the Rotterdam criteria, which states that a woman must experience at least two of these symptoms to be diagnosed with PCOS: irregular periods, excess androgen or polycystic ovaries (i.e. when ovaries are enlarged and contain multiple follicles that surround the eggs. As a result, the ovaries might fail to function regularly.)
“Not every woman experiences the same symptoms,” said Folkendt, “meaning the information on how to treat PCOS is fragmented.”
Phishing And Misinformation
The vast misinformation that surrounds PCOS prompted Folkendt to create a new solution for women that is trustworthy and transparent. She partnered with co-founder Janine Kopp, who brings her expertise in the pharmaceutical space (studied Medicinal and Industrial Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH Zurich and worked at Takeda Pharmaceuticals).
“We are building a place of evidence-based, research-backed information,” Kopp told me in an interview. “We will also host journal clubs where we will discuss research studies together with the researchers.”
To factor in all aspects of the condition, Perla Health is partnering with medical and scientific experts who can answer PCOS-related questions via an “Ask The Expert” service on the website.
“Finding other women to share my journey with on Facebook and Reddit was hugely beneficial to me,” Folkendt said. “However, I got frustrated at times as women were suggesting solutions that didn’t work for me. The thing with PCOS is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”
Another problem that Folkendt pointed out are the many websites out there that are trying to make money off women who suffer from PCOS by selling them supplements, courses or other virtual products — none of which are evidence-based. While there are no treatments for PCOS at this stage, there are big pharma companies that are working on finding some. Earlier this year, Evotec and Bayer announced a new alliance to focus on drug discovery for PCOS with novel targets from Celmatix.
Should VCs Take An Interest?
While the Femtech space is booming and is expected to become a $50 billion market by 2025, some areas are getting more funding than others. Indeed, the “less sexy” conditions in women’s health, like PCOS, menopause and endometriosis, have taken a backseat until now. Yet PitchBook recently published a quarterly report on Femtech, spotlighting endometriosis as a massive investment opportunity.
“The global market for endometriosis is expected to reach $2.3 billion, presenting a huge growth opportunity for products and services focused on the disorder,” the report states. Like PCOS, endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women, which indicates how massive the PCOS market is.
Many Femtech startups are speaking up about the importance of publicly acknowledging and understanding PCOS. San Francisco-based Modern Fertility recently hosted a webinar about the condition titled “Truths and myths about PCOS”. Co-founder and CEO Afton Vechery asked questions to Dr. Temeka Zore about the impact PCOS can have on fertility. And London-based Peanut, which connects women across fertility and motherhood, also recently posted about this on its Instagram account.
Community-building is an essential part of startups like Perla Health that will hopefully lead to a safe and inclusive space for women to share their stories.
“Being diagnosed was a bittersweet moment for me,” Folkendt said. “I finally had some answers that confirmed I wasn’t causing all these things, but now, I know I have a chronic condition for life. I want to help other women navigate this challenging journey.”