The need for women's health and pregnancy health advancements is undeniable and urgent. Despite lifesaving breakthroughs in fields like oncology and cardiology, women's health hasn’t kept up. The U.S. is in a state of crisis, with an increasing number of preventable maternal and infant mortalities.
In a conversation with Cathy Friedman, Executive Venture Partner at GV, and Mirvie’s CEO and Co-Founder Maneesh Jain, the two discuss why the time is now to build momentum in women’s health innovation and why it matters.
Maneesh Jain: A New York Times Magazine article coined the term “The Golden Age of Medicine,” to describe the accelerated pace of biomedical innovation in recent years. What is driving this change? And why haven’t women’s health and pregnancy health kept up?
Cathy Friedman: In the past, we had biological discoveries and we had computing power. And now the computing power, whether it's machine learning or AI and the advances in biology have been able to meet and be married to precision medicine. So now more than ever, we have the ability to detect disease and search for diagnostics or therapeutics to either ameliorate or cure disease.
We've had a lot of biological data before, but we haven't been able to make sense of it. We can now do that with the genomics and proteomics revolution. Thankfully, the computing power is allowing us to sort through all this information to make good decisions.
Maneesh Jain: In fact, when we got started at Mirvie, we had conversations with top physician-scientists in maternal fetal medicine that revealed a critical barrier holding the field back: understanding the biology of pregnancy, the most profound and intricate biological process that impacts all human life.
Maneesh Jain: How might early prediction and prevention of pregnancy complications help address the maternal health crisis?
Cathy Friedman: For the last five years or so, there's been a lot more opportunity to be able to predict whether someone has cancer and where that cancer might be going. And the same in the cardiology field. The maternal health field has been really in a wait and see mode and act if something bad happens. That was where cardiology and oncology were several years ago. And it's great to see science finally keeping up with biology in maternal health.
In women’s health, the technology and the cost of healthcare are driving clinicians to be very focused on how to prevent negative outcomes for both mothers and their babies. If you can use preventive measures and diagnostic measures to see who might be at risk for complications, you can treat them ahead of time and save not only a lot of agony, but also save a lot of money for the healthcare system.
Maneesh Jain: Indeed it is exciting that breakthrough innovations such as the Mirvie RNA platform are uncovering the underlying biology of pregnancy to predict life-threatening pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and preterm birth months in advance - offering a glimpse of the possibilities within our reach to bring pregnancy health into the 21st century.
Given these complications' lifelong consequences and financial burdens, prioritizing preventive measures is becoming increasingly crucial. With desperately needed screening tests, we can start identifying individuals at risk for pregnancy complications and intervene early. Sparing them untold distress while also reducing healthcare costs. Breakthroughs like this can serve as a pivotal turning point in the worsening maternal health crisis.
Maneesh Jain: GV has a growing women’s health investment practice. How has your personal experience shaped your investment priorities?
Cathy Friedman: One of the most important things in people's lives is bringing a baby into the world. The fact that we have better care for things in the healthcare sphere other than taking care of women having a baby and ensuring that those children are born at term and healthy, makes women’s health incredibly important to me.
Women make up 50% of the population, yet a mere 1% of healthcare research and innovation investment is directed towards female specific conditions beyond oncology. I'm really proud of the fact that at GV, we're looking at the full scope of women’s health - from fertility through menopause - and focusing on how we can be helpful to that ecosystem.
Maneesh Jain: Childbirth in the U.S. should not be life-threatening. It's disturbing that complications affect one in five pregnancies, with hypertensive disorders, including preeclampsia, doubling in the last two decades. We must prioritize the health of pregnant women and ensure they give birth to healthy children at full term. Every family deserves the best possible beginning, and how women navigate the demanding pregnancy journey profoundly impacts their health for the rest of their lives.
To make headway, bold research and compelling data are crucial to pushing the field forward. For example, Mirvie is leading groundbreaking research to predict complications like preeclampsia in pregnant women - the largest study of its kind. Progress like this illuminates a path toward a new era of personalized medicine for a field that has long been stagnant, in a reactive state.
Maneesh Jain: What’s needed to maintain the recent momentum of investment and innovation in women’s health?
Cathy Friedman: Women's health is not a niche or a therapeutic category. It is more than half of the population. There's a clear societal need and sound business case for more healthcare services and solutions for the specific needs of women, from menstruation to menopause and vaginal health. We really need to prove that investing in women's health is not just an imperative for improving the lives of women globally, but it also presents tremendous opportunities for value creation. It's a wonderful thing to do for the world, but it's also a great investment.
We are really rooting for Mirvie among our other portfolio companies to have success because I think success breeds success, and that success could come in lots of different forms.
The field of women’s health is still really underfunded relative to other areas of healthcare research and investment and we have a lot more we can do here.