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The company's device can detect if a pill has been taken, and can send reminders via its app
The pill is the most commonly used form of birth control for women in the U.S., with more than 10 million women choosing it for contraception. Yet, it also has a 9 percent failure rate, which results in over 1 million unplanned pregnancies a year. That's due to the fact that 80 percent of women miss at least one pill per month, which can also lead to negative consequences such as spotting, headaches and acne.
This is the problem that Amanda French and Janene Fuerch discovered during their fellowship at Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, and it's what led to them found Emme, a company that uses a hardware device, along with an accompanying app, to increase birth control adherence.
"I was amazed when I learned how prevalent these consequences were. I really discovered the prevalence of the missed pill problem when I was at Stanford Biodesign back in 2016. I came to that program with a background in medical device engineering, and at Stanford I had the opportunity to observe hundreds of clinical unmet needs and look for those that were most promising to launch a business from," French told me in an interview.
"That was what led me to learn about the consequences that women experience when they miss a pill and how common they are."
Emme, which launched on Tuesday, along with a $2.5 million seed funding round, combines a connected hardware device, called the Smart Case, with an smartphone app. The device uses multisensor technology to detect if a woman has taken her birth control pill. If not, the Emme app will then periodically send her reminders throughout the day, in the form of push notifications or texts.
The Smart Case, which is an FDA Class 1 medical device, costs $99 and currently works with more than 100 brands of birth control pills. It is meant to be "purse-worthy," as French calls it, meaning it can be carried throughout the day.
"We wanted to build a product that women wanted to, and would, carry with them every single day and so we knew we needed to design a product differently than a medical device that you only use several times a year. So, even though the product is a medical device, it's been wonderful to put design at the forefront, when it came to thinking about these journeys and the user experience," said French.
The app, in addition to sending out the reminders, which users can customize to their schedules and preferences, also uses the data it collects to provide users with health information. For example, it can provide education on what to do if a user misses a pill, and it might also recommended for them to use backup contraception, according to CDC guidelines.
"Not only are we solving the missed pill problem but we have an integrated solution that actually coaches and supports women throughout their pill journey," French explained.
While users are able to use the app, which is available as a free standalone product on iOS, without the Smart Case to track their pill, as well as to track their symptoms, side effects and health experiences, using the hardware is the best way "to get a full picture of their health, as well as see how their pill habits relate to their health experiences."
"The reason that we have developed the custom hardware is because there is substantial clinical evidence that demonstrates that simply setting a reminder on your phone or an alarm is not effective at improving adherence. In fact, there's a clinical study that shows that alarms and reminders by themselves are really no more effective than memory alone. And this is why 80 percent of women on the pill miss at least one pill per month," said French.
"It closes the loop on the missed pill problems through seamless tracking, and enables automatic alerts so that the user has one less thing to worry about. With the Emme system, we're really able to support and enable a much more convenient pill experience."
During the company's beta trials, which included 70 participants, its solution was able to drive an 80 percent reduction in missed pills, while 85 percent of participants reported improved confidence with the pill.
"Improved adherence is clearly linked with improved health outcomes, both in terms of a reduction in symptoms and side effects, as well as even a reduced rate of unplanned pregnancy and our beta participants certainly experienced the benefits of having a more adherence regimen because of the drastic improvements that they saw in their adherence with our product."
Emme's funding round, which was led by Magnetic Ventures with participation from existing investors, brings its total raised to $3.5 million. The company plans to use the money to expand its team, which currently consists of seven employees, as well as to build out the product, including launching an Android app, as well as becoming more integrated in terms of health care support.
Along with the investment, Emme added two new members to its board of directors: Christine Aylward, founder and Managing Partner of Magnetic Ventures, and Deborah Kilpatrick, CEO of health data analytics platform Evidation Health.
"We are thrilled that Deb and Christine joined our board because they bring extensive expertise across a number of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, digital health and health care more broadly. The expertise that they bring will help Emme accelerate to meet our goals," French told me.
"Deb is a pioneering CEO in the digital health space. She's really driven and pioneered the importance of a patient-centered approach when it comes to digital health, which has certainly influenced our philosophy and approach at Emme. Christine, with her background as an executive at Roche, brings, among many things, expertise from the pharmaceutical industry, which is so relevant for us, as we're developing products that improve pharmaceutical adherence."
The femtech space is on the rise, especially for companies in the fertility space, which saw $688.8 million invested in the first half of 2020. The space, which was often ignored by investors, is now becoming a larger part of the overall digital health ecosystem.
French's vision for women's health, in general, is that "we would see the industry provide more and more technologies that enable women to have the best possible health care experience and the best possible outcome," which will be achieved "through the ongoing development of new, innovative products that really put women's needs at the center."
"Even though there are other companies that have looked at women's relationship with the pill before, we were really the first company to identify that the missed pill problem is the top problem for women on the pill. And so, that's why we built our first product completely centered around that. I hope for the future that we continue to see more women's health companies and products that put the patient's needs at the center," she said.
"The pill is often a woman's first independent healthcare decision to get that prescription for the pill and to use the pill, but there are so many decisions that follow. So, success for us will be to continue to build and garner and maintain that trusted relationship with women by continuing to meet unmet needs in their health care journey."
(Image source: emme.com)
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