The global fertility and pregnancy rapid test kits market is estimated to be valued at $12 million in terms of value in 2019 and is expected to reach over $16 million by the end of 2027. This opens up a huge opportunity for startups to innovate in this space.
Alongside this, fertility treatments currently have a success rate that ranges from 29% to 2% depending on the age of the mother. With these kinds of figures, the question remains: how can the industry improve?
This is where FemTech comes into the picture. We spoke to six key experts in the field of fertility technology to ask what ways technology are changing, and improving fertility care.
The Problem with the Market
At a fundamental level cost is a major issue. Tess Cosad, the co-founder of Bea Fertility, summarised perfectly:
“Only those who can afford to go to a clinic in the first place are accessing those advances. This leaves everyone who can’t afford clinical treatment behind.”
Similarly, Jonathan Gubspun, CEO of Selectivity, highlighted issues around costs, as he said, “also related to these costs, are the costs of travel expenses and time disposition in order to receive the treatment. Fertility clinics are located in big cities forcing couples and women to travel to have treatment, increasing the hidden costs of the treatments.”
Jonathon also raised the emotional costs of these treatments. “Couples need to keep working, keep being responsible for all the things they are managing while trying to build a family. This situation keeps increasing the stress, the anxiety and the fear, which can ultimately aggravate their living situation.”
A lot of our experts raised issues of limited capacity. When you think that, as Jonathon raised, “infertility incidence affects 70M couples worldwide nowadays (20% of the couples in childbearing age) and among them, 75% of the affected couples do not get access to treatment”, there is a lot of people wanting access.
“infertility incidence affects 70M couples affected worldwide nowadays (20% of the couples in childbearing age) and among them, 75% of the affected couples do not get access to treatment”
As founder of Jubel Health, Rachel Bond noted, “There is roughly, 75K OBGYNs in the US to 75M women of childbearing age.” With these number, she says, “there’s a shortage of OBGYNS and REIs (fertility specialists) and a surplus of people in need of preconception and pregnancy-related health and wellness guidance, education and services.”
Tess Cosad, agrees with Rachel noting, “clinics only have so much physical space in which to work, and are limited in the number of treatment cycles they can perform each year. Even some of the bigger London clinics reach maximum capacity at around 2000-2500 cycles per year. There are not enough clinics for the number of people who require treatment, and so things like waitlists and price increases happen.”
With so much room for improvement why isn’t there more being done? Amy Beckley, founder and inventor of Proov, highlighted:
“There are very few truly innovative companies/products, instead lots of investment dollars and focus is going to the same product but in a prettier box.”
Tess Cosad, also highlighted stagnation within the market, noting, “the issue is that so much of this innovation is happening at the clinical side of the market. There is not the same level of innovation on the consumer side – the same investment isn’t being made into pre-clinical treatment.”
For Robert Milnes, CEO of Fertility Focus, this lack of innovation in the clinical side of the market is really damaging. As he says, “the expectant management approach (wait 6 months – 2 years for intervention) prevents couples from earlier diagnosis and decreases their chances of a successful pregnancy by adding time to their trying to conceive journey.” This alongside other treatments like, “the payer model are biased against early diagnosis and natural pregnancy.”
How Can the Market be Disrupted?
For Rachel Bond, Founder and CEO of Jubel Health, whose product gives people awareness into their reproductive health and wellness, early awareness is everything.
She says, “people need earlier awareness to get in front of childbirth outcomes, gestational diabetes, increased fertility success, etc. People aren’t having as many proactive conversations with OBGYNs as they could and are at a loss for information in between reproductive care doctor visits (i.e., Dr Google or friends with different experiences).”
Rachel Bond explains how the product she founded Jubel is changing this. “Jubel augments traditional healthcare by offering a virtual, personal fertility education and coaching platform bridging the gap before, between and after OBGYN and REI appointments. We give people 24/7 access to personalized programs, education, dedicated fertility and wellness coaches and access to experts like the country’s top fertility specialists and OBGYNs at their fingertips.”
Robert Milnes, CEO of Fertility Focus and the manufacturers of OvuSense, believes recognition by the clinical space that procedures need to be rethought is important.
He says, “an acceptance by clinicians and health systems that expectant management no longer works in a rapidly ageing trying to conceive demographic. A more integrated approach to recognise ART (in particular IVF) is a costly last resort for relatively few and that more investment earlier in the patient pathway (by payers and clinics) can lead to an overall improvement in fertility rates.”
“An acceptance by clinicians and health systems that expectant management no longer works in a rapidly ageing trying to conceive demographic.”
He went onto explain that, “OvuSense solves this problem for the female partner by helping understand reproductive cycles from day 1 in the trying to conceive pathway, screening for ovulatory issues that may cause infertility or miscarriage risk, and helping track the effect of lower-cost interventions to modify them as required.”
For Tess Cosad, co-founder of Bea Fertility, and Sex-Tech expert, “the sector is ripe for a revolution in direct-to-consumer care”, with this comes more choice for consumers and more understanding. She said:
“We need more choices when it comes to our fertility. We need better sex education as teens. We need to have access to fertility education as adults. We need to be able to have our choices presented to us early on in our fertility journey, so as to make better choices for ourselves and our families later on.”
“The fertility sector as it is today allows those who can, to ‘have’ choices. It blocks those who cannot from ‘making’ choices. I think we need to offer a wider range of affordable choices to people, before they go through the doors of a clinic.”
Tess explained how her product is resolving the above issues. “Béa Fertility is all about democratising access to fertility care, and we’re all about taking simple technologies out of the lab and placing those (safely) into the hands of users. Our first product is the Béa Treatment Kit for Intracervical Insemination (sometimes called Cervical Cap Insemination). We’re launching the hardware insemination devices alongside LH tests and a digital health experience that allows users to track their cycle, and when ovulation occurs, perform intracervical insemination at home.”
Both Robert Milnes and Leo Martinez rose the issue of research. As Robert summarised, there is a need for “more learning about the under-explored science behind the female reproductive cycle which for too long has assumed that all women have very similar characteristics.”
Leo Martinez continued with this line of thought saying:
“We know too little about menstrual cycles and how the hormones change them, yet we are told to take this or that hormone or this or that shot, without actually looking at how our actual hormones look like.”
Amy Beckley, who founded Proov, the first and only FDA cleared test to confirm ovulation and ovulation quality at home, after her own personal battle with infertility, finalised our discussion perfectly.
“We need investors to invest in the products that are innovative, this is the only way we are going to move forward. I would much rather see a new test that helps diagnose endometriosis than yet another prenatal vitamin.”
“Let’s stop solving the same problems and creating competitive products and work together to solve the biggest unmet needs couples face.”
With thanks to our expert contributors