The heart of an entrepreneur
It was her commitment to choice that led Dr Jessica Grossman to quit a promising career as a medical doctor, and venture into an uncertain future. “Noble as it would have been to be a doctor, I didn’t want to spend years processing patient care,” she says. “I wanted to help provide women with a wide range of healthcare choices.” The CEO of Medicines360, a non-profit women’s health pharmaceutical company, had finished medical school and was in the middle of her residency when she began questioning why women who suffered from uterine fibroids – a benign condition – routinely underwent aggressive surgical methods to alleviate discomfort.
I had to do what you do at the Coalition, I surrounded myself with the right people to get the idea off the ground.
Jessica was caught up in the germ of an idea – a minimally invasive technique to reduce fibroid volume. But the idea alone wasn’t enough. “I had to do what you do at the Coalition,” she says. “I surrounded myself with the right people to get the idea off the ground.” She went on to found and lead Gynesonics, a medical device company focused on minimally invasive solutions for women’s health. She raised over $22M in venture capital financing, and, under her leadership, Gynesonics developed the first intrauterine ultrasound-guided radiofrequency ablation device for fibroid tumours. The company is still going strong 11 years on, but Jessica moved on to serve in numerous positions at startup medical device companies, develop several patents, and publish peer-reviewed articles.
In 2015, Jessica joined non-profit pharmaceutical company Medicines360 as CEO to help operationalize what she calls their “incredible vision” – to develop and introduce a highly effective hormonal intrauterine system (IUS) contraceptive to women in developing countries. Medicines360 received FDA approval for the 52mg levonorgestrel-releasing IUS (LNG-IUS), marketed in the US as LILETTA®.
Medicine 360’s marketing model is innovative in its own right; its IUS is sold in the US through partner company Allergan, and US royalties will help fund its introduction into developing country markets, Kenya likely to be the first. In 2015, Innovation Fund support helped Medicines360, MSI Kenya, and FHI360 to jointly conduct a market assessment and develop an introduction strategy for the IUS into Kenya. The exercise found that the only LNG-IUS currently registered for use in Kenya was largely unaffordable to most Kenyan women.
Medicines360’s product is poised to enter the Kenyan market offering women a new quality-assured product at an affordable price, thereby expanding the method mix. The hormonal IUS, which was introduced in certain European countries, may also reduce menstrual bleeding, sometimes stopping it altogether, says Jessica. “Water and sanitary supplies for women are severely lacking in so many communities.” she says, “Studies have shown that young women are interested in limiting their menstruation through use of hormonal contraceptives.”
This marketing model will reap no profits; Jessica is aware that she passed up the predictability and financial security of a career with a more conventional for-profit company, but she feels immensely rewarded by having brought together science, technology and women’s health. “If my work is able to help just one girl set her sights on a brighter future, stay in school longer and take control of her own fertility by planning whether or when to have children, I would consider my efforts to have been successful.”
The ability of women and men to have a range of contraceptive and other RH options from which to choose. An individual’s need for contraception evolves throughout his or her life cycle and is a function of both psychosocial and physiological factors. The ability to access the “right” contraceptive method increases the likelihood that one’s RH needs will be met; a mismatch, research shows, is more likely to lead to dissatisfaction, lower continuation rates, and often method failure.
Who’s Holding up Our Pillars?
This story is part of “Who’s Holding up Our Pillars?”, a Coalition effort to invite our heroes working in supply chains to tell their stories. Read their stories and see who they contribute to our vital, everyday work.