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Posted By CBSACNY Healthcare Committee, Thursday, March 1, 2018

How Femtech, Genomics and Consumerism are Driving Change in Reproductive Medicine: A Recap


David Sable, MD (moderator)
Alan Copperman, MD
Susan Hertzberg, CEO, Prelude Fertility,
Mylene Yao, MD, CEO and co-founder, Univfy
Anne Morriss, CEO and co-founder, Genepeeks
Rebecca Kaden, partner, Union Square Ventures

Moderator David Sable's assessment of the forces that are changing reproductive medicine was a tour de force. He summarized key points in this must-read 3-part Forbes series, which is based in part on the panel discussion:  Part 1Part 2Part 3

For those who missed the January 24, 2018 meeting or want to refresh their memories, here's a brief recap:

Cool Stats: The IVF/reproductive medicine industry generates ~$5 billion in the US per year, a niche compared to big healthcare spend areas like cancer ($85 billion a year); 7 million women in the US suffer from infertility, but only a small percentage seek treatment; There is a severe shortage of reproductive medicine specialists and only 35 slots per year for endocrinology fellows in the field, hardly enough to satisfy demand, especially as market expands.  Egg freezing accounts for 30-40% of many practices. –David Sable

Big Trend: The industry is consolidating and expanding the range of services it offers to include new technologies and procedures for treating IVF as well as the use of reproductive technology for fertile couples, including those at risk of passing on genetic diseases. –David Sable

Gaps in Care Yield Opportunities for Entrepreneurs: Access to care is limited due to cost, stigma, unpredictable success rates; shortage of specialists; inefficient workflow (high personal touch now standard). –all panelists

What the Experts Say:

Union Square Ventures, as an early-stage venture firm, focuses on the intersection of technology and consumerism, according to partner Rebecca Kaden. With these priorities in mind, it sees opportunities to apply technology to mass-market, consumer-oriented strategies in fertility planning, notably addressing lack of scientific and medical knowledge and inadequate financing options for consumers. From providers’ perspective, technology can help improve branding.

Susan Hertzberg’s firm Prelude Fertility has a scale-up strategy to apply best practices and innovative consumer outreach and financing arrangements to expand access to care and quality of the patient experience. The lack of knowledge about basic reproductive concepts and biology is fueling the need for a massive public awareness campaign to educate women and their OB/GYNs/ primary care doctors about fertility options. A neat tidbit: the older the woman, the less likely she produces healthy eggs when seeking egg freezing options, so Prelude would like to ratchet down the age at which women opt for fertility planning by educating them because younger women have a better shot at successful IVF.

Alan Copperman’s many hats include co-founder and managing partner of RMA of NY, one of the nation’s largest networks of infertility clinics, which is using data-driven precision medicine and next-generation sequencing of embryos to optimize embryo selection in order to reduce failure rates of procedures and occurrence of multiple births. Copperman is also Vice-Chair of OB/Gyn at Mount Sinai Medical Center and CMO of the Mount Sinai’s new genomics platform company, Sema4Genomics. The focus of his remarks was the need for education of specialists in the field and expanding consumer access to quality care with better success rates.

Genepeeks, a computational genomics company offering pre-natal clinical genomics, is, among many other activities, making sense of genomic data gleaned from preconception screening. This is potentially an alternative to carrier screening, with a higher resolution, says co-founder and CEO Anne Morriss. Genepeeks considers the emotional and technical aspects of patient decisions as it accounts seeks to help patients make decisions along the treatment journey.

Univfy’s CEO Mylene Yao co-founded the company in the belief that data-driven predictive analytics could hold the key to making IVF more accessible, predictable, and affordable. The company has a clinically validated informatics platform that predicts patients’ likelihood of successful IVF, which enables it to offer risk-based, innovative financing options. This is particularly pertinent to the US, where most patients pay for treatment out of pocket, compared to ex-US, where third-party payors often cover the costs.

General Discussion:

·        Sandstone Diagnostics sells an FDA-approved, at-home test, available on Amazon, for checking sperm concentrations to find out male fertility levels and understand individual risk factors that may be causing low fertility levels. 

·        While we have the ability to screen for thousands of genetic abnormalities and, thanks to CRISPR, manipulate cells to eliminate mutant genes, we are still far from having the ability to select genetic traits we want due to the complexity of genetics.

·        Because IVF labs are so inefficient, innovations in robotics, microfluidics, artificial intelligence and other technologies could greatly improve efficiency. While the US currently spends about $5 billion on infertility treatment, that number could easily double if more people seek appropriate help. One challenge for automation is that embryos are fragile and difficult cells to work with, but the field has practically zero tolerance for errors.

And for those eager to view the discussion, please visit our YouTube Channel.


This recap was posted by the CBSACNY Healthcare Committee

Chair: Wendy Diller

A special thank you to our panelists, who led a thoughtful, eye-opening discussion on the challenges and opportunities awaiting fertility medicine entrepreneurs. Also, thanks to our gracious host, Wendy Goldstein & Cooley LLP.

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