As part of the digital health boom, there's a growing list of companies focusing on women's health issues, and more specifically hormonal health, such as Modern Fertility, Tia, Veera Health and Perla Health.
Early-stage, New York-based startup Allara Health has launched out of stealth to jump into this market with millions in investor backing.
Allara is an all-in-one virtual care platform for women living with complex, chronic conditions and helps women to identify, understand and manage symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS affects one in ten women of childbearing age, and it is estimated that half of women go undiagnosed, according to the company. Many women lack the care, support, and answers they need to effectively manage their symptoms.
PCOS is the most common reproductive disorder in the world and is marked by an imbalance in reproductive hormones such as testosterone. Side effects include weight gain, infertility, acne, thinning head hair, excessive body hair growth, mood disorders, chronic fatigue, and trouble sleeping, among countless others. If not addressed, the side effects of the condition can lead to development of type 2 diabetes and even uterine cancers.
Rachel Blank left her director position at buzzy digital health company Ro to launch Allara, motivated by her own healthcare journey. Blank was diagnosed with PCOS at a young age and has experienced firsthand how frustrating and expensive it can be to diagnose and treat the chronic condition, she told Fierce Healthcare.
"I grew up with a Dad who is a gynecologist, so I was exposed to women’s health care and had access to great doctors. But I still didn’t know what to do with my healthcare," said Blank, who is the founder and CEO of Allara Health. She noted that she spent a lot of time, money and energy seeking the advice of multiple specialists but never felt like she was making progress towards treating her common, chronic condition.
Looking for information, Blank said she would go on Instagram and Reddit, where she found a Reddit community of 60,000 women talking about PCOS.
"I wanted to use my personal experience with PCOS and my professional experience working in digital and health to build something better," she said.
Her vision for Allara is to build a collaborative chronic care management platform, starting with treatment for PCOS and then expanding into women’s specialty care conditions, such as endometriosis.
The company has raised $2.5 million in a seed round led by Global Founders Capital, with participation from Great Oaks and Humbition.
The path to a PCOS diagnosis often requires multiple visits to siloed specialists. Allara's platform bundles together multiple services including medical care, nutrition counseling, lifestyle coaching, and community support all built into a digital health platform. Diagnosis and treatment are streamlined and backed by a specialized group of care professionals and medical advisors in reproductive endocrinology, gynecology, nutrition and holistic wellness, according to Blank.
“The goal in working with Allara and its medical specialists is to make PCOS more manageable for women and to be a holistic partner throughout a woman’s wellness journey, said Heather Huddleston, M.D., director of the PCOS clinic at UCSF and an Allara Medical Advisor, in a statement.
"With Allara, women can be confident that their treatment plans are the result of true cooperation and partnership among some of the most well-respected specialists in the field of women’s healthcare," Huddleston said.
Allara charges $100 per month for access to its care team. Membership begins with detailed intake visits with both a medical provider and a registered dietitian, and diagnostic blood testing if needed. Patients will then receive a personalized treatment plan, ongoing check-ins, and nutrition support, according to the company.
Traditional medical services and new digital health innovations in the area of women's health typically focus on reproductive health and fertility, Blank said.
"In a lot of ways the industry has conflated women’s health with fertility but there are specialty care conditions that women deal with that don’t fall into the fertility bucket. There is a whole swath of complex specialty care needs for women and no one is addressing that," she said.
Blank previously worked at investment firm General Catalyst and then moved over to startup Ro to grow its digital health clinic for women, called Rory. But Blank decided to go solo to build a specialty care platform for women rather than build it within Ro.
"There are companies doing a good job of addressing primary care needs, and Ro is doing that. But where do you send women for specialty care? That's missing. Allara is a specialty care player, as opposed to a primary care player," she said.
Of note, Ro recently acquired Modern Fertility in a deal valued at $225 million to add reproductive health to its growing platform.
About 35,000 women are using the Allara platform or on a waitlist, according to Blank.
"We're seeing how engaged and excited women are to have better solutions for them and their needs. This solution didn’t exist for them," Blank said.
The platform is currently cash-based but there are plans to expand to both the commercial insurance and employer benefits markets quickly, she said.
Currently, Allara is available in New York, Florida, Texas, Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia and has plans to make the platform nationwide by the end of 2021.