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How data collection can change fertility treatment now and in years to come

Is data collection the answer to better reproductive health research?

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Cecilie Hvidberg Jakobsen, wawa fertility founder, tells FemTech World why data has the power to change fertility treatment. 

The prevalence of infertility is more common than most people would think. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this global health issue is affecting millions of people of reproductive age worldwide. Available data suggests that between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals have infertility globally.

A report published in 2016 in the Oxford Academic journal suggested that one in eight women aged 16–74 years had experienced infertility, defined by unsuccessfully attempting pregnancy for a year or longer.

Cecilie Hvidberg Jakobsen has seen the devastating emotional and psychological consequences of infertility among her friends, after she struggled herself with pregnancy loss.

“I was so confused that no one was speaking about this subject when actually, so many people suffer from infertility and have to pause everything in their lives to put all of their energy into treatment,” she tells me.

“After a lot of research, I found out that infertility was actually the biggest chronic disease in people in the reproductive age and the biggest problem, as in many other parts of the women’s health tech sector, was the very big data gap.”

Cecilie experienced pregnancy loss herself

Along with her co-founder, Barbara Saouma, Jakobsen has launched wawa fertility, a Danish app designed as a personal assistant that offers medical and mental health support for fertility patients. “We spoke to around 250 couples, fertility clinics and pharma companies and we found out that the only right way [to close the data gap] was to empower women, because they are the only ones who have all the knowledge about the process that they’re going through,” the founder says.

“Our app is handling everything for women and couples going through fertility treatment, from diagnostics, all the way to the live birth of a child.

“We are helping them understand the treatment that they’re going through, what is happening in the diagnostic process, how to pick the right clinic, what questions to ask their doctor and how to prepare for different procedures.”

The amount of data collected helps founders like Cecilie to personalise insights and offer tailored advice. While wawa does not use personal data and complies with data regulators, the founder explains that collecting so much information will be beneficial for many generations to come. “That data can help us do better research, and come up with better fertility treatments,” she says.

“Many women experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss, like myself, don’t want anyone to suffer from this in the future. Right now, the numbers that we’re looking at are saying that more than half of people are going to need help getting pregnant in the future.

“I really want to do something about it,” Jakobsen continues. “If my kids are going to need fertility treatment, I definitely want to make sure it’s going to be an easier journey than what I experienced and I feel like a lot of the women are thinking the same.”

An integral part of that is understanding the infertility symptoms. wawa’s research found that more than 80 per cent of women going through treatment suffer from mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Cecilie says that: “Women have no clue what they’re going through. They have no clue if they’re taking the right medication the right way because most of the clinics are very busy and don’t have the time to give the right information to patients.”

Wawa offers medical and mental health support, such as writing therapy and daily check-ups, as well as financial advice that can help people navigate their fertility journey more easily.

“The app is research-based,” the founder points out. “So, everything is made by experts we’ve been working with from psychologists to gynaecologists and fertility experts. That was very important for us because as a woman, becoming pregnant is your number one wish, and we wanted to create an app based on real research and backed by people in this sector.”

                                                                wawa uses AI to support patients and improve treatment

Considering a significant increase in fertility apps, I ask Cecilie what makes hers different. “I think what makes wawa different is that it is data-driven and everything you put into it will give you feedback immediately. So, we are making sure that we are empowering women at a personal level and give them insights on how they can improve their treatment. We are here to handle everything, so they can try and relax in some way, because our aim is to make the very hard journey just a little bit easier.

She adds that: “We’re also focusing on things that would help reduce the time of the treatment, making sure that women are not experiencing hyperstimulation, for example, and trying to create more transparency between doctor and patient.”

Wawa’s aim is going global and with enough data, the team are hoping to reduce fertility treatment and symptoms and minimise the use of medication.

“We are also hoping to make fertility treatments more accessible,” Jakobsen says. “Right now, in Europe alone, 25 million people are suffering from infertility, but we’re only treating 10 per cent and that is because it’s too expensive and way too tough. Our big mission is to change that in the future.

“Currently women can’t even learn from their previous cycles because much of the information collected  is still on paper. This is why we want to own our own data and make sure that we use it to improve fertility treatment. More importantly, we give women the chance to forever have access to their own data and everything else they need within the app.”

For more info, visit wawafertility.com.

 

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Maven Clinic launches programme for couples struggling to conceive

The programme aims to address the gap between trying to conceive and fertility treatment

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The US virtual clinic Maven has launched a health coaching programme in an effort to expand family-building options for couples struggling to conceive.

With 86 per cent of women not receiving preconception care from their family physician or OB/GYN, Maven’s Trying-To-Conceive (TTC) health coaching programme aims to support people who may be struggling and want to get pregnant without IVF.

The programme includes one-to-one support, reproductive education, ovulation tracking kits, as well as referrals to resources for mental health and nutrition.

“Maven is making sure every family can access the shortest pathway to having a healthy baby,” said Kate Ryder, Maven Clinic founder and CEO.

“We have constructed a unique model that, for the first time, aligns incentives among the stakeholders in healthcare to support people who are trying to conceive.”

To address the gap between trying to conceive and fertility treatment, Maven’s TTC Coaching service brings the benefits of health coaching to fertility care, providing members with “personalised” support and reproductive education, Ryder said. 

Dr Neel Shah, Maven Clinic’s chief medical officer, added: “While most sex education is spent teaching people how to avoid pregnancy, very little time is invested in empowering them with the guidance needed to become pregnant when they’re ready.

“Our coaching program supports couples to understand why they are struggling to conceive and in many cases helps them get pregnant without needing IVF.”

Further product enhancements the Maven team has announced include the Maven Managed Benefit platform, as well as an expansion of the company’s reproductive urology provider network for male fertility support.

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Brazilian fertility network FertGroup partners with Future Fertility to launch innovative oocyte assessment software across all clinics

The collaboration marks a significant milestone in advancing fertility care in Brazil

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FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva, a dynamic network of fertility clinics in Brazil, is proud to announce its partnership with Future Fertility to introduce cutting-edge oocyte assessment software, VIOLET™ and MAGENTA™, across its expanding network of clinics.

With nine clinics currently under FertGroup ownership, the network is poised for significant growth, aiming to surpass 15 clinics within the coming year.

This expansion is a response to the escalating demand for fertility services in Brazil, a market that has seen remarkable growth (17.6 per cent CAGR compared to the global average of ~10 per cent).

Factors driving this growth include an underserved market, rising medical tourism, and evolving population dynamics emphasising the need for advanced fertility solutions.

Led by private equity investors XP Private Equity fund, FertGroup is committed to revolutionising the fertility care landscape in Brazil and beyond.

Future Fertility is the first and only AI company to offer a comprehensive and easily integratable solution to oocyte assessment for clinics around the world.

With the world’s largest oocyte dataset, the use of this software (VIOLET™ and MAGENTA™) is at the forefront of this partnership, enabling clinicians, embryologists and patients to gain broad access to AI-driven insights about oocyte quality.

Nelson Guerreiro Pestana, CEO of FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva, highlighted the importance of integrating such innovative technologies: “At FertGroup, we are committed to bringing forward medical innovation that directly benefits the lives of Brazilians.

“Partnering with Future Fertility reinforces our market-leading position and reputation for excellence in fertility care.”

This technology optimises decisions regarding oocyte cryopreservation, ICSI IVF treatment approaches and oocyte donation. It also empowers patients by offering valuable insights into how their health status impacts expected fertility outcomes, helping clinics differentiate their service offering and provide a more patient-centric approach to fertility care.

Christy Prada, CEO of Future Fertility, expressed excitement about the expansion into the Brazilian market: “We are thrilled to partner with FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva in introducing Future Fertility’s innovative oocyte assessment software to Brazil.

“FertGroup is leading the market as the first network in Brazil to implement this technology, marking a significant step forward for fertility care in the region.”

Dr Edson Borges Jr, chief medical officer of FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva, emphasised the significance of oocyte quality in care delivery: “As a scientific leader in the field, we believe in bringing cutting edge technology to our patients, and supporting further research into new approaches to measuring and assessing progress in fertility treatment.

“Oocyte quality is a critical aspect of fertility care, and we believe that by integrating Future Fertility’s advanced tools into our care models we will advance the science in this space and demonstrate the value of leveraging oocyte quality in decision making.”

“Integrating the Future Fertility technology into our labs has been completely seamless” remarked Maria Cecilia Cardoso, group lab director.

“We already can see the value of the workflow integration, and this was a major decision factor for us. We are excited to see the benefits this will bring to decision making, providing an objective and personalised view of quality control into the process.”

This collaboration between FertGroup Medicina Reproductiva and Future Fertility marks a significant milestone in advancing fertility care in Brazil.

The introduction of VIOLET™ and MAGENTA™ software underscores FertGroup’s dedication to innovation and patient-centric care, solidifying its position as a pioneer in the Brazilian fertility market.

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Don’t politicise fertility, leaders warn after MP’s ‘patronising’ intervention

It is worrying to see a “deeply personal” women’s health issue being debated by politicians, fertility benefits providers told Femtech World

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UK femtech leaders have warned of the dangers of playing politics with fertility services following what they call “unhelpful, patronising and disrespectful” comments from an MP. 

The Conservative MP Miriam Cates raised concerns this week that women are being exploited into freezing their eggs, claiming that “most hopeful mothers are sold a lie”.

She said she fears women are being given “false promises” by large corporations offering them money to freeze their eggs to put off having children to a later age.

However, reproductive benefits providers labelled the comments as “unhelpful, patronising and disrespectful”.

Eileen Burbidge MBE, executive director at reproductive health start-up Fertifa, said: “Policymakers should absolutely be giving more attention to protecting reproductive health access and treatment options for women, given how shamefully ignored women’s health has been for too long.

“However, characterising egg freezing in the way that Miriam Cates has recently done is unhelpful, patronising and disrespectful to women who rely upon the option to freeze their eggs whether for medical reasons, to donate to others who suffer from infertility or for their own future optionality to relieve patriarchal societal pressures of finding a life partner or starting a family.”

Far from being exploitative, employers who offer financial and wellbeing access to reproductive healthcare are responding to what their talent is asking for, Burbidge, who served on former British prime minister David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group, told Femtech World.

“Data has consistently shown that women do not choose to freeze their eggs in order to work longer or prioritise their careers, but rather because they’ve yet to find a life partner and wish to not succumb to patriarchal societal pressures to do so.

“The fact that companies are supporting this will hopefully mean more women recognise the fact that the likelihood of success increases the earlier they freeze their eggs.”

Leila Thabet, UK general manager at Maven Clinic, said it is concerning to see a highly emotionally charged women’s health issue being debated by politicians and commentators with their own agendas.

“It is correct that egg freezing will not work for all women, but rather than paint an entirely bleak picture of the practice, it is vital that we empower women with facts around the procedure so they do not fall prey to exploitative clinics and operators who may not have their best interests at heart,” she said.

“At a time when data shows that women’s health care needs are still largely being neglected, it is unhelpful to dismiss the provision of women’s and family health benefits in the workplace as exploitative. This is as unhelpful as it is untrue.”

Jenny Saft, co-founder and CEO of fertility benefits provider Apryl, said there is a misconception that fertility benefits platforms offer egg freezing to keep women in the workplace.

“This is not how these programmes are designed or implemented. From my experience, it’s rare to find a company that limits its fertility benefits to egg freezing alone,” she explained.

“Typically, employers provide a comprehensive suite of fertility and family-forming options, including but not limited to egg freezing, sperm freezing, IVF, adoption, and surrogacy.”

Egg freezing has seen a sharp rise in the UK. More women than ever before are undergoing procedures, with egg and embryo freezing now the fastest growing fertility treatments in the country.

According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA), egg freezing and storage saw a 64 per cent increase in 2021 compared to 2019.

The procedure, which is not available on the NHS, is largely carried out by private clinics at a price tag of £7,000 to £8,000. Fertility benefits platforms claim to provide financial and emotional support for egg freezing, giving women more freedom over when to start a family.

“When egg freezing is offered as an employee benefit it takes away the financial burden of egg freezing,” said Dr Catherine Hill, head of policy and public affairs at Fertility Network UK.

“However, it does not remove the health risks and side effects associated with the invasive medical process, or the emotionally demanding and often upsetting nature of freezing your eggs – all of which women need to consider before making any decision.

“Because this is such a big life choice, it is vital women do not feel under any obligation from their employer to take advantage of this employee benefit.”

Although the procedure enables some women to delay motherhood until the time that is right for them, egg freezing should never be seen as a fertility insurance policy, Hill said.

She added: “Making a decision on the right time to approach parenthood or to attempt to postpone it is a very individual commitment and must be made without pressure from anyone else, including employers. Egg freezing should be about widening women’s reproductive choices on when to have a baby, not enabling a scenario where women feel forced to delay motherhood.”

Becky Kearns, co-founder of Fertility Matters at Work, said it is crucial that companies educate employees and empower them to make informed choices.

“While egg freezing will be seen as a huge benefit and attraction for the next generation of workforce, it needs to be balanced with information and facts to allow people to make informed choices,” she told Femtech World.

“Organisations should be supporting fertility treatment as a whole where possible, not just for those early in their careers. If the focus is solely on egg freezing there’s the risk that this may be perceived as a means to encourage employees to delay having a family, to the short-term benefit of the employer.

“This benefit on its own, without balanced information and education about outcomes and overall fertility awareness, may result in people purposely delaying having children, thinking they have a guarantee for when the time is right, when in reality it gives them a chance.

Miriam Cates has been approached for comment.

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