As Mother's Day comes around, we take time to recognize the strong motherly figures in our lives, from all types of families who have supported and watched us grow - something Derek Sham, CEO and Founder of Cosm reflects on this year. At the age of six, after immigrating to Canada from Hong Kong, his first few years were spent under his grandmother’s care as his parents were establishing themselves in a new country. Sham describes her as a strong matriarch of the family. However, to him, she was more than that. She was his bedrock, providing the love and support he needed in a time of change.
Nearly a decade ago now, Sham received devastating news that his grandmother had been suffering from late-stage pelvic organ prolapse. From previous experience working in diagnostic medical devices in urology, he knew she had most likely been suffering silently for years.
Pelvic floor disorder is one of the most common health problems that affects 1 in 4 women. It can be exacerbated by childbirth, but other contributing factors that increase an individual’s risk may include family history, obesity, aging, and genetics. Pelvic floor disorder occurs when the pelvic floor muscles weaken or sustain damage, causing urinary or fecal incontinence, pain during intercourse, or prolapse which is the uncomfortable shifting of organs that are no longer properly supported. With these symptoms being so personal in nature, it can be embarrassing to talk about to close friends, family, or even to a medical practitioner. This can lead to progressive worsening of the problem, if unaddressed. One study shows an average woman will wait over 6 years before seeking treatment.
For pelvic floor disorders, two of the most common treatment options are surgery or pessaries. Surgery in this field has been making waves in the news as portrayed in this documentary, causing concerns especially among the elderly. On the other hand, pessaries, a removable medical device that supports the pelvic organ - are a safe, low-cost alternative. However, the current process to get a properly fitted pessary is archaic. It involves trial and error, requiring multiple uncomfortable and sometimes painful doctor visits. Moreover, women can only choose from a selection of standardized options despite the fact that pessaries have over a hundred different shapes and sizes.
Sham’s grandmother underwent many pessary fittings, none of which alleviated her discomfort or would stay in place. This contributed to a loss of independence and, compounded with other health conditions, led to her being admitted into a nursing home within a year of initial diagnosis. Despite all of Sham’s efforts and knowing world-renowned physicians in the field from his career in urology, he felt helpless and frustrated.
In 2017 an idea dawned on him. If there are custom orthotics, dentistry, or even eyeglasses, why can’t there be a custom pessary? Combining the latest advancements in diagnostics to capture novel physiological biomarkers, artificial intelligence, cloud software and 3D printing, Cosm was able to create the world’s first custom gynecological prosthetic called Gynethotics.
Cosm has been active in engaging the clinical and patient communities. Testimonials were positive and hopeful. A sixty year-old patient expressed, “What [Cosm is] doing is actually ground-breaking earth-shattering for us women [who] do wear pessaries. We are not all the same size. One size does not fit all.” Through Gynethotics, women suffering from pelvic floor disorders will have greater access to world-class technologies that improve the quality of care and treatment options.
The TELUS Pollinator Fund is excited to welcome Cosm as our newest portfolio company and the solution it provides to a much overlooked women’s health issue. This investment supports our transforming healthcare impact thesis, making health care more accessible, serving unmet needs, and supporting the women in our lives we hold so dearly.