New companies are ready to make assisted conception affordable, but they face challenges both practical and ethical.
The business of baby-making is growing. New healthcare start-ups are receiving funding to develop and market affordable fertility treatments to help people trying to get pregnant at home. Those in the fertility industry say that this sector – usually grouped into the wider category of “femtech” – has previously faced barriers in attracting venture capital backing, but that this is slowly changing. In the past, many potential investors were cautious about whether there was a market for such products, but with infertility affecting one in four couples worldwide, it’s quickly becoming clear the demand for assisted conception is higher than ever.
How is the fertility industry changing?
Many founders share a desire to democratise the fertility industry – placing the emphasis on making things easy to use – preferably usable at home – and relatively affordable. The pitch is straightforward: with many people waiting longer to have families, some are turning to clinical assistance such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and egg-freezing. Yet these treatments can be prohibitively expensive at private fertility clinics, while getting them on the NHS throws up a number of hurdles including potentially long waiting times.
Tess Cosad, a co-founder of Béa Fertility – which raised $1m (£730,000) in April – says the idea is not for start-ups to replace NHS fertility treatment, but to give aspiring parents additional options in the assisted conception process. “Fertility is a bit like a Tube map,” she says. “You get on one line and depending on the stops along the way, you change line or stay on one line.”
How are Béa Fertility making a difference?
Béa Fertility – co-founded by Tess, embryologist David O’Rourke and product developer George Thomas – plans to offer intracervical insemination (ICI) as an at-home service, following clinical trials in the UK and US. The process of assisted conception using the ICI treatment is ideal for home use. It involves placing a small cup of semen close to the cervix, where it’s left for four to six hours, maximising the number of sperm cells entering the uterus and increasing the chances of conception. It’s an old method, used commonly by the fertility industry in the 1940s but is rarely offered by clinics thanks to the shift towards IVF. However, Tess believes it is worth putting into the hands of couples to give them an extra option.
“Cost is paramount in this field – perhaps because fertility treatments have a reputation for high price tags. While customers can expect to spend a few hundred pounds, companies can be quick to compare this to the fast-multiplying costs of private healthcare. Béa Fertility’s kit has not yet come to market, but Tess estimates that it will cost £300, with a monthly subscription option, making it a much more affordable option.
As well as ensuring they offer assisted conception at an affordable price, companies in the fertility industry need to design a brand that’s attractive, but doesn’t detract from the serious topic. Tess argues there’s a case for good design: “It’s hard enough making a baby. We don’t want the process to be anything that’s shameful. When you open this box, I want you to feel everything you feel for a new iPhone. I want you to leave it on your bathroom cabinet and be proud.”
This article was edited by Béa Fertility, read the original article by Alys Key in full in iNewspaper.
Disclaimer: Gender is experienced differently by all, particularly when it comes to our fertility. Our articles are written by a variety of authors, all of whom bring their experiences into their writing. Some articles will reflect these experiences more than others, and our goal is always to create content that represents all families.