Infertility is a multi-billion dollar industry that has plagued couples around the world. Fortunately for many, a number of startups have now trained their sights on this incredibly important space and are looking to address it from a number of angles, both for men and women. Modern life has many factors which may contribute to infertility including diet and carcinogenic pollution, and scientists have warned that there is a male fertility crisis.
Despite the high cost of IVF and ICSI, which are conservatively in the region of $23,000 per cycle, the industry shows every sign of growth through the pandemic.
One startup that is tackling male infertility by offering numerous solutions for analysing and maximizing samples is Legacy. Legacy’s CEO Khaled Kteily is a former healthcare consultant and Harvard and World Economic Forum man who happened to have a subpar experience at a fertility clinic and was inspired to develop a startup. The service personally collects home-collected sperm samples, develops a comprehensive report on your fertility, and immediately stores your potential offspring in their cytostorage facility, wherein you have 7 days to choose whether to attempt the miracle of conception.
Topping off a stellar few years of growth securing $10m in Series A funding, Legacy’s Harvard-backed team’s most recent financing round marks over $15 million in funds raised from top investors from the likes of Section 32, Y Combinator, TQ Ventures, and Tribe Capital. Bain Capital Ventures also led a $1.5 million seed round for the Boston startup in 2019. In 2020, Legacy received $3.5M in funding from investors impressed with its customer-forward fertility solution. Legacy’s therapies go beyond IVF – since the first recorded use of frozen sperm for insemination, the industry has become estimated to be valued at $4bn. The number of fertility cycles performed by U.S. fertility clinics has been growing strongly since 2014 – estimated to total a record 333,600 IVF procedures this year, and demand is growing from the ranks of 7+ million infertile American women. The original method of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) was IVF or in-vitro fertilization, which brings together an egg mixed with millions of sperm in a carefully controlled vessel which flood the egg. Whilst highly effective for many couples, new technologies such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) allows far more children to be conceived by sophisticated artificial methods. A single sperm cell is injected into an egg, which means that even men with very low sperm count have a crack at fatherhood. The first use of ICSI in humans was announced in 1992 – since then, ICSI has completely revolutionized male infertility treatment.
Despite the high cost of IVF and ICSI, which are conservatively in the region of $23,000 per cycle, the industry shows every sign of growth through the pandemic. The inability to access any services in a lockdown unless necessary has also signaled more emphasis on innovative startups like Legacy which do not rely on conventional facilities.
Another startup taking on male fertility in the US is Dadi, which was birthed when co-founder Tom Smith almost faced the possibility of no birth having found a lump on his testicles and facing treatment for late-stage cancer. Like Kteily, Smith found the traditional process unglorified and dreamed of creating a product that could cater to the fertility needs of men when they needed it, and making it available for fertility testing and storage. The result is a service which, for as low as $199, provides “CLIA certified sperm analysis, 24-hour fertility report turn-around, and 10 videos of your sperm”, outstanding for potential fathers, but astounding for others with a casual interest in the condition of their sperm! With a year of free storage to boot, Dadi exhibits just how cost-efficient sperm testing and ultra-effective cryogenic freezing technique can be.
This eight-employee startup that’s raised around $2 million thus far, and more, indicates that the fertility industry is yet nascent. Right now, mothers and fathers miraculously have children because of advances in our understanding of science, and with developments like ICSI have shifted the lens of parenthood.
Naturally, a range of questions arise along the bioethics of reproductive rights. Whilst we celebrate the joy of parenthood through scientific means, societal norms are likely to take a while to keep pace with technology.