As infertility affects millions of people of reproductive age worldwide, preserving and solving fertility issues remains a major health concern among individuals and couples across a wide range of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and geography.
37 fertility start-ups develop innovations to facilitate each step of the conception journey : from preconception health to fertility care access.
Discover the latest trends in North America, the UK and Europe.
1. Why has fertility become a major health concern ?
Delayed childbirth, lifestyle habits and environmental pollution increase infertility risks in Western societies.
In France, infertility could impact up to 25% of couples and incidence rates have risen for the last 20 years.
As a reminder, infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant (conceive) after one year (or longer) of unprotected sex.
Causes of infertility are present in both men and women, with about 40% of all infertile couples demonstrating a combination of factors according to the American Medical Association.
Some of the factors driving the trend toward fertility decline include:
Delayed childbirth as individuals and couples are having their children later in life. Such delay can be induced by financial considerations, focus on education and career and celibacy. Fertility is impacted as it decreases with age.
Lifestyle habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol use, drugs, extreme weight gain or loss.
Additionally, at least 7% of the population identifies as LGBTQI+ and may require fertility or adoption support to start a family.
2. What are the current limits of traditional fertility care ?
In many countries, the lack of preventive health and high treatment costs limit fertility care.
When it comes to fertility care, one of the first limits reported by patients is the cost of treatments. As an example, for patients struggling with infertility, the average cost of one cycle of in-vitro fertility (IVF) is $10,000 to $12,000 in the U.S. and £5,000 - £8,000 in the UK.
Private and public coverage is still limited, leaving patients with elevated out-of-pocket expenses. Preventive fertility measures such as egg freezing can also be expensive with limited coverage from public and private health insurance plans.
Lastly, navigating the fertility journey can be complex and stressful for patients.
They may need to overcome hurdles at different stages :
In the preventive phase, women and men can lack information regarding their fertility health and options to preserve it.
Once they engage with medical fertility treatment, uncertain outcomes and duration can become emotionally draining.
3. What innovations are brought by FemTech start-ups ?
Fertility start-ups contribute to optimizing the conception journey on two levels :
(i) at-home and (ii) clinical settings.
FemTech start-ups innovate in two ways :
They aim to facilitate preconception health and natural conception with at-home solutions.
For individuals and couples struggling with infertility, they facilitate their clinical journey with innovative supports & structures.
i) At-home solutions
When it comes to preconception health, the first priority is to help patients assess their fertility health and empower them to make informed choices regarding their future.
Several start-ups enable patients to order fertility tests and receive results from the comfort of their homes. Combined with telemedicine services, they may discuss their options with a medical expert and decide how to preserve their fertility.
For instance :
When it comes to “natural” conception, start-ups can support patients in two ways :
Identifying women’s fertile days using connected devices and tests. Inne, OOVA, Kegg, Ava, Eli and Mira leverage different methods to track women’s hormones on a daily basis and provide them with feedback on their fertile window via mobile applications. Depending on technologies, hormone measures can be achieved through urine tests, saliva collection or recording of other physiological parameters.
Offering at-home insemination kits. While Mosie Baby markets a syringe designed for at-home intravaginal insemination (IVI), London-based Béa Fertility is developing a medical device relying on Intracervical Insemination (ICI). These options represent affordable alternatives before more costly, invasive clinical interventions.
ii) Clinical level
For patients needing a medical intervention to conceive, innovative supports and structures emerge to facilitate their journey :
Support communities like Bumpy in Sweden connect patients so that they can share advice on fertility clinics.
Lastly, optimizing IVF outcomes is one of the greatest challenges for Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART) professionals. Start-ups such as ImVitro (France), Overture (U.S.) and Annaida (Switzerland) respectively develop AI platforms and medical devices to assist embryologists with embryo screening and selection. The ultimate goals being to reduce risks and shorten time to pregnancies.
The American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have designated infertility as a disease. The declaration could have a broader impact on how patients, insurers and society conceive of and act with regard to infertility.
For fertility start-ups, it could mean more awareness, access to funding and development in the future.
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Charlotte Puechmaille from FemTech Now
This article was originally published on the FemTech Now Linkedin page on March 8th, 2022.