5th Aug 2021

Improving the long term health of women - why we invested in Vira

The Vira team has a vision to close the gender data gap in healthcare, starting with menopause.

I’m delighted to support the Vira team alongside Julia and Remus at LocalGlobe as they announce their £1.5 million Seed round.

Menopause care had been an area of interest for me having heard experiences of women going to GPs with an array of severe symptoms, only to be told that these symptoms are common when going through menopause. Women are sent home with a blanket “diagnosis” of menopause, often not receiving follow up care to ensure the symptoms aren’t a sign of a more serious underlying health condition, with little to alleviate the symptoms, other than a potential recommendation for HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), and receiving no personalised recommendations to make the menopause journey more manageable.

As a result, we had seen a handful of companies operating in similar spaces, and while each had strengths in its own right, there were a few things that really set the Vira team apart.

Closing the gender data gap

There is a well documented gender data gap in healthcare overall given that the majority of medical research is conducted on white and predominantly male populations and, where research subjects are mixed, the data is mostly not sex-disaggregated. This often leads to the poorer provision of healthcare to non white male populations and this is exacerbated today as AI trained on incomplete data is increasingly used to help healthcare providers with diagnoses and treatments.

Vira is on a mission to close this gender data gap, starting with menopause. The gender data gap here is even more pronounced. In part because of the low prioritisation of menopause in medical research but also because menopause is still treated as a taboo topic which results in a lack of conversations, understanding and data around the effects of menopause. According to research by AARP, 42% of females between the age of 50–59 have never discussed menopause with their health provider.

What drew me to the Vira team is their focus on collecting and collating data to help solve the immediate quality of life issues that affect billions of women worldwide as they go through menopause, as well as their longer-term vision to use this data to tackle the severe health issues that can arise from menopause when not well managed. Vira extracts and analyses data that is already available from clinical trials, medical records and research reports and combines it with the data from their own customers to deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions to relieve menopausal symptoms via their app “Stella”.

The Need

So why is Vira starting with menopause? Well first off, there is a massive need. Nearly one billion people worldwide are coping with menopause. Over 80% say that symptoms interfere with their daily life and nearly half say it has made work difficult or even untenable. Vira cofounder and CEO, Andrea Berchowitz, recently delivered a TED talk on how to create a menopause-friendly work culture that supports gender equity in the workplace. Worth a watch.

Menopause results in an array of physical and mental symptoms that can heavily impact women’s lives between the age of 40–60. Each woman has a different experience but there are over 40 symptoms that last for an average of five years ranging from physical (vasomotor nerve symptoms, fatigue, musculoskeletal), mental (cognitive function, depression) and sexual health issues.

In addition to the immediate symptoms, if not treated accordingly menopause can lead to poor long-term outcomes including osteoporosis, dementia and cardiovascular diseases.

Introducing Stella

The Vira team just launched its first product, Stella. You can download it here.

Using the app, customers share information on the symptoms they are experiencing and a team of clinicians and specialists will create a 12-week plan designed to help improve their most severe symptoms. The treatment includes:

A tailored plan designed by doctors and specialists, in line with NHS guidelines, to bring you tips and advice backed by the latest menopause research right to your phone.

A dedicated coach to help you set goals, motivate you, and keep you accountable.

Opportunities to connect with doctors, specialists and other women going through menopause via weekly Stella Lives sessions.

Tracking and treatment reminders to identify patterns in your overall wellbeing and celebrate your achievements.

“Menopause has really played with my coping mechanisms due to the knock-on effects largely due to lack of sleep & hormonal imbalances. It’s been amazing to be guided and supported by people who use the same language as I do.” Yvonne, customer test group
“I do seem to be sleeping better which is great news! I think I am not getting so anxious if I do wake and as a result seem to be able to use some of the techniques from the guided meditations to get myself back to sleep.” Helen, customer test group

The people behind the product

When backing companies at the Seed stage, belief in the founders is an even more crucial part of the decision. In Vira’s case, the founding team has a particularly impressive combination of skills. Cofounder and CEO, Andrea Berchowitz, has extensive experience leading public and social sector work in Africa and the Middle East focused on a range of women’s health and wellbeing topics including contraception, access to maternal healthcare, and gender parity in the workplace, at McKinsey and the Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr Rebecca Love, cofounder and Chief Product Officer, has a medical science PhD from Cambridge and trained as an epidemiologist focused on chronic diseases. Rebecca worked as a public health consultant and research fellow for national and international health organisations including the Mayor of London (tackling child obesity), UNICEF, WHO and Public Health England.

This combination of deep healthcare, commercial, and data science expertise is extremely powerful. We are backing Andrea, Rebecca and the whole Vira team in their ambitious vision to transform the way the menopause market is served and to play a part in the urgent need to close the gender data gap in healthcare.

Digital Health is a strong focus area for MMC and we’ve backed teams including Current Health, Elder, Agamon, Habitual and Echo (acquired by McKesson) with a couple more exciting ones on the way.

If you’re a founder building a digital health business, get in touch to see if we can help accelerate your journey.

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