Priyanka Jain and Laine Bruzek want to close the gender gap in healthcare. And they’re talking about vaginas, in particular.
With their new company, Evvy, which launched earlier this year, they’re targeting an issue that is still a mystery for so many women. Approximately one in three women, or 30 percent, will have vaginal issues every year, Jain says. Many of these will be chronic cases of repeated infections or dysbiosis. And yet the treatment being used is still too basic, she argues. “We just put a bomb in there, as in an antibiotic, and then hope the right bacteria grow back.”
Evvy is setting out on two missions: one to help women better understand what’s going on in their vaginal microbiome using full-genome testing and two, to help build data on a region of the body that’s been neglected.
“Women, in general, were only included in clinical research after 1993,” she exclaims. “That’s in the ’90s!”
Because women have only been a part of medical studies for three decades, Jain says there’s so much of the women’s body that we still do not fully understand. “Women are on average diagnosed four years later than men across 770 diseases. We’re just terrible at understanding what health and disease looks like in the female body because we’ve barely done it for 30 years.”
Evvy provides an at-home testing kit that allows women to take a swab and send it in to see what bacteria are present in their vaginas at that time. By getting a more holistic picture of what’s going on, with a breakdown of bacteria by names and species, a woman can then treat the issue more precisely. “Bacterial vaginosis, in particular,” Jain explains, “isn’t a very helpful term. It just means that there is an imbalance in your vagina.”
And yet it affects over 20 million women in America annually, for which there has been no clear treatment protocol. It’s a process of trial and error, with antibiotics being the first line of defense.
Jain was led to start the company because she had been dealing with a variety of health issues that no doctor could quite explain or treat. “I was just told sleep more, drink more water, stress less, really broad things, which was really frustrating.”
For her co-founder Bruzek, it was a similar story. She had been misdiagnosed for years before she found out that the problem she was actually fighting was bacterial vaginosis. When Jain came to her, three years after her diagnosis, with the idea of a vaginal microbiome company, Bruzek knew she had to be involved. She’s applied her marketing background to Evvy; the clever copywriting and somewhat-in-your-face messaging is intentional, she says, “Because we need to make it a more common topic. It’s not something to be shameful about. There are millions of women going through it every day in the US.”
Her focus is on getting as much information to women as possible. The company’s blog has articles on every topic imaginable related to the vaginal microbiome and is designed as a resource to girls and women, especially if their doctors have been less helpful.
Evvy hopes that with a personalized set of results (and some coaching), you’ll be better equipped to talk to your doctor. “Part of the challenge is that some doctors have not had training on the specific bacterial imbalances that can occur. So much of what we’re doing and looking at has been developed in the last 10 years or so. That means not all doctors may be aware of these advancements,” Jain says. “So not everyone is getting the empathetic care they deserve.”
While it may be a company targeting women, Jain also notes that these issues indirectly affect men’s lives too. “Women are not the only ones whose quality of life is reduced by having a chronic issue,” she adds. When raising funds for the company in fact, she says, that several male investors in the room came up to her later privately and shared that they had seen the women in their families wrestle with these issues as well.
There’s also the bigger question of how vaginal health affects a woman’s overall health. The latest research indicates there is a link. Because the vagina is an entry point for pathogens, having poor vaginal health can lead to other diseases and ailments. “That’s why it’s so essential for the vagina to maintain its pH and the right mix of bacteria because it makes it an acidic environment that many pathogens cannot survive in,” she says.
Evvy has a long road ahead: Jain and Burzek would like to make it more affordable, and possibly even work with healthcare providers to make it even more accessible. That’s a system that they’ll navigate as they build the business. “Unfortunately, we do operate in a world where funding supports research, and insurance provides coverage. But we’re seeing what we can do to make it as affordable as possible, given the lab work and technology needed to do the tests.”
In the meantime, Evvy hopes to demystify the female body as much as possible through testing and education.