Current contraceptive methods available to women globally, often come with harmful side effects, including blood clots, migraines, irregular bleeding, loss of libido and mental health related problems. This is well known and more frequently being spoken about in the media, press and medical journals as we become more educated around the topic. For example, you may have heard about the comparisons of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the contraceptive pill earlier in 2020? Studies spotlighted that in the UK, blood clots occurred in people taking the AstraZeneca vaccine at a rate of roughly one in every 250,000, whereas blood clots caused by the pill are estimated to affect one in every 1,000 women each year. Data which we have known about for years but that no-one really batted an eye to.
The current system for screening through risk of side effects or individual tolerability of side effects is rather poor, and comparable to a ‘trial-and-error’ approach. Public healthcare providers around the UK only have a limited 10-15 minute consultation time to prescribe contraception, where they must quickly screen for potential risk factors but which are nuanced and easily missed without care. “We do not have enough information or time to truly understand what side effects are bothersome or acceptably tolerable to women during consultation times” explains a consultant from the Royal Free Hospital.
Our research shows that as a result, most UK contraceptive users struggle with bothersome side effects, serious adverse consequences, and high levels of dissatisfaction with their contraception. Some women give up completely which may lead to unintended pregnancies. Moreover, contraception is used beyond birth control, for example to treat a number of women’s health conditions including menstrual disorders, PCOS, adenomyosis, and acne. In these cases, finding a suitable hormonal treatment is absolutely crucial for treating the underlying condition.
The trial and error approach to hormonal medications often continues throughout women’s reproductive journeys, from fertility treatments all the way to menopause. At Dama Health we believe that women shouldn’t experiment with their bodies to randomly test different contraceptive options, instead, they should be able to make informed choices about their reproductive health. We are here to support women on that journey!
We believe that the future of women’s health will be personalised medicine. Dama Health is revolutionising the way in which women are matched to their contraception. We have created contraception matching tests which consist of digital and genetic screening to identify the most suitable contraception type and formulation for your individual needs. The ultimate product will utilise our digital screening test and at-home testing kit to gather pertinent data such as medical history, personal preferences, and genetic differences that can be incorporated into evidence-based and truly personalised recommendations of the most suitable contraception type and brand.
Our products are being developed with doctors and female health experts and based on the newest scientific evidence. Our proprietary screening tests take into consideration the patient’s medical needs, personal preferences, previous experience as well as the different side effect profiles of hormonal contraceptives. Our genetic panel helps to take things one step further, and identify potential risks and predispositions to personalise the recommendation even further, for example by informing users and clinicians if they are at higher risk of developing specific side effects or lower effectiveness of hormonal medication.
Where did the idea originate from?
Everyone on the team has experienced the problem Dama Health is tackling – either by seeing it in clinical practice or from personal experience. Our unique combination of skills and passion for the personalisation of female health meant that we were very aligned when the founding team first met.
Elena grew up in the Netherlands where most girls were prescribed contraceptives from a very young age with little to no guidance and education around the potential side effects associated with hormones. When she was older and started studying Medical Sciences at University, she looked back at this experience and started doing her own digging into the clinical research available around contraceptives. To her surprise, there really wasn’t much! This encouraged her to want to explore the topic further and compile the clinical data that was available in order to create her own decision-making tool, which she then started sharing with close friends who would ask for advice. She realised that such a tool would only be as good as the research feeding into it, which unfortunately was not a lot. After reading about Dr Lazorwitz’s research she reached out to him in 2020 to propose her business plan in hopes of working together to deliver updated science to women.
Paulina has experienced side effects of contraception herself and saw many of her friends experiencing similar issues. During her clinical attachments at med school, she discovered that finding the right contraception fit is not only a problem for women, but also for clinicians. She’s observed contraception consultations being very rushed, doctors struggling with the limited consultation time to explain various methods and establish what would be most suitable to an individual patient. Overall, appointments were far from the desired “shared decision-making” scenarios that should be happening between doctors and patients. She worked on implementing an online contraceptive quiz and educational website into a GP clinic in 2019 and saw that the solution had the potential to improve outcomes and satisfaction for doctors and patients. As she progressed through medical school, graduated from Management and nurtured her passion for innovating healthcare, she developed a strong motivation to address this problem at scale.
Dr Lazorwitz is a practising Obstetrician & Gynecologist in the United States and was astounded to find that the field of women’s health, and specifically, contraception was so far behind in applying personalised medicine principles that were revolutionising other areas of medicine. Like many of his patients, he was frustrated that there was little to no guidance in the prescription of contraceptives for an individual woman and it was essentially only a hit-or-miss approach. This sparked Dr Lazorwitz’s interest in personalised medicine and kickstarted his research on uncovering genetic differences that could help explain why contraceptive methods affect individual’s so differently. He hopes that this product will actualise his research into a tangible solution.
What inspired you to start a business?
Both Paulina and Elena studied a business degree at Imperial and were inspired by the entrepreneurial environment and incentives throughout their programmes and through the Imperial Enterprise Lab. “The amount of resources and support available through the University definitely inspired me to research more into the topic, and gave me the confidence to go from idea to business plan. I also met so many incredible mentors and future colleagues through Imperial which have opened up incredible opportunities for me.” comments Elena Rueda.
Medicine at Imperial exposed Paulina to incredible researchers and medical experts and the opportunities through that. However, it was the environment of the business school, the Health-Tech community in London and her work with start-ups that together contributed to her passion for innovation in medicine and motivation to work as an entrepreneur.
How did your team meet?
It was a mix of luck, intentional networking and a lot of alignment.
Elena reached out to Dr Lazorwitz in 2020 after reading that he was recruiting for a clinical trial in the United States. They organised a call where Elena proposed her business plan in hopes of working together to commercialise his research and build something impactful together. They soon after started working together virtually, looking into possible product development opportunities and supply chain partners for the genetic test kits.
Although Paulina and Elena were both studying at Imperial College Business School, they actually met through a common side-hustle – a job in HealthTech content and copywriting. Paulina was at that time working for healthtech start-ups and thinking about whether to pursue the contraception project further. Meeting Elena and Dr Lazorwitz was a dream come true, “It’s not everyday you come across people that are as passionate about the same problem as you, aligned about the vision with different backgrounds and that importantly get along so well.” Paulina soon joined the team and after a few more months of working altogether, they formally registered the company.
We were very lucky to align well in terms of our strengths and weaknesses and on a personal level.
Do you have any advisors? If so, how did they get involved?
We have an incredible group of mentors and advisors who are supporting us in various different business areas. Elena has some amazing mentors from Merck KGaA and industry, Paulina has a network of mentors from her clinical practices, London’s HealthTech communities, and the NHS clinical entrepreneur programme, and Dr Lazorwitz has an incredible network of patients, doctors and researchers in the US.
Through Imperial, we have participated in the Summer accelerator programme, Imperial Venture Mentoring Service (IVMS) and the We accelerate programme where we have met the majority of our current advisors and mentors helping us with product development, regulation and financial planning.
What stage is the business/project at and what are your plans moving forward?
We have built our proprietary algorithm and beta web-app which is ready to be tested with beta users. We are currently recruiting for beta testers so if you’d like to take an active role in shaping Dama Health’s product and the future of contraception, you can register here. You’ll be notified with an invitation to trial the contraception matching test, and you can join the waiting list for genetic screening test. Parallel to this, the team is busy preparing for their funding round, speaking to clinics across the UK for pilot testing, recruiting for a Tech/data lead and advancing our genetics R&D in the US.
Are you raising funding, what is your fundraising target and what will you use the funds for?
Dama Health will be raising their first every round in Q1 2022. Our pre-seed round will help us grow our team, match grant funding, build our web-app, accelerate our clinical research and establish reputation. Get in touch for more information about our fundraising plans: email@example.com!
What’s been your biggest success so far?
So much has happened in so little time, but some of our greatest achievements so far has been growing the team from two to 10+, successfully applying and being accepted into over 5 accelerator and innovation programmes, publishing some of our research at the American Society of Reproductive medicine conference in 2021, and getting our first 100+ beta tester sign ups!
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Coming from a science background, we often look for the truth or the “right” answer to our challenges. It’s quite a big shift to navigate a fast-paced space where there’s no real “right” answer at all. Being first-time entrepreneurs, we are very open-minded and keen to hear feedback but it’s sometimes really hard to distinguish between valuable advice and noise. Moreover, as a biotech/healthtech start-up, we often find that sometimes the usual business frameworks do not apply easily to us as we have to prove true clinical value, validate our solution from a regulatory point of view, and run research studies which can take longer, especially in the field of women’s health where there is a systemic lack of data on female bodies.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Find people who are passionate about the same problem. It’s a difficult journey and having a team aligned on a bigger vision is one of the greatest strengths
- Learn to separate your business idea from yourself – you are not your business and your business is not you. This will allow you to digest feedback and pivot faster if required to do so!
- Cautiously step outside your safety road – don’t be afraid to ask for help and make mistakes along the way
- Utilise your networks and opportunities to engage with mentors and advisors
- Be open with your team about your strengths and weaknesses – this will be crucial to build trust and delegate tasks effectively
- Create a business that you want to create – everyone may have an opinion about how to do things but you are the one taking the risks and putting the time and effort into making it a working reality, so make sure it’s aligned with your beliefs