Millions of women struggle with side effects related to contraception, but Tuune is on a mission to change this.
When I first met the CEO and founder of Tuune, Shardi Nahavandi, over three years ago, it was clear that she was a femtech pioneer who meant business. Today, her company has developed the world’s first personalised contraception service with a long-term vision to overhaul women’s hormonal health more broadly.
Tuune rejects the harmful ‘one size fits all’ approach that women have been forced to accept for so long when it comes to their contraception choices. Even in 2021 (at a time of unprecedented health tech development), many women have no choice but to pick contraceptives based on friends’ experiences or hearsay. The BMJ reported that 41% of birth control consultations in the UK have substandard risk assessments, which could potentially lead to side effects or even death – as in the tragic case of 21 year old Fallan Kurek, in 2017.
Tuune’s extensive research will put a stop to that, meaning that women can, for the first time, choose a method that harnesses their hormones to ensure they feel their best. Some of the key issues facing women are being tackled with Tuune’s personalised approach:
- 52% of women globally experience side effects from their contraception (Innovate UK)
- 43% of women believe they have a hormone imbalance but can’t get a doctor to diagnose it (Tuune)
- 85% of women don’t think their doctor spends enough time to find the best contraception for them (Tuune)
The Tuune team includes biomedical engineers, psychiatrists, and gynaecologists with a special interest in menstrual health and genomics. Their refreshed approach is grounded in science, but moulded towards the users. This cutting-edge team is joined by its Chief Medical Advisor, Dr Ali Kubba, Vice President of the European Society of Contraception and Reproductive Health, who brings a wide breadth of relevant field experience.
Shardi’s mission to create a fairer, more balanced healthcare industry began when she was misdiagnosed with bowel cancer in her twenties. After almost undergoing surgery to treat it, her doctors realised they made a mistake, but then brushed her symptoms brushed off as stress related instead. Not convinced by the diagnosis, she quit her job, undertaking two additional health degrees in her journey to uncover what was actually happening to her. After self-diagnosing a hormone imbalance, Shardi discovered that the medical understanding of female hormones and the way they impact how we all feel is still in its infancy. She realised that male hormones are frequently used as the medical ‘standard’ in studies, despite them being extremely different to women’s.
Sadly, Shardi’s experience is far from unique, with more than 80% of the world’s 3.7 billion women experiencing hormone-related health issues, lasting an average of 7 years. These conditions tend to be poorly managed with most going undiagnosed. Contraceptives are often the cause, too. Approximately 50% of women who start using hormonal birth control stop using it within one year due to the side effects.
While these may have come to be accepted as part of ‘being a woman’, Shardi believes that we have an opportunity to change the narrative, by unlocking the mysteries surrounding women’s hormones and celebrating the truth of women’s experience.
The big picture
Although femtech is now predicted to become a $50 billion industry by 2050, it’s clear that this is yet another example of an entire space—women’s hormonal health—being left unchallenged for a generation. Elvie, another Octopus Ventures portfolio company led by Tania Boler, is transforming breastfeeding and pelvic floor health through innovative femtech hardware, but many areas have remained in the ‘black box’ of unexplored women’s health issues. This is likely to be linked to the male-dominated nature of venture capital over the decades, as well as the sensitivity of some of the ‘taboo’ issues at stake. Thankfully, things are starting to change.
Who are the pioneers
Femtech pioneers such as Shardi and Tania represent a new breed of female entrepreneur: unapologetic, bold, straightforward and personally connected to their products and consumers. The markets and the scale of the problems they’re tackling are vast, but we believe Tuune represents the next generation of truly world-changing businesses we at Octopus Ventures are so keen to invest in.
With our investment, Tuune will continue its UK launch alongside a global product roll-out. It also has plans to expand the team, and significantly enhance its research. Watch this space.