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The Polish start-up aiming to transform the reproductive medicine sector

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Ula Sankowska, MIM Fertility co-owner and co-CEO

AI start-ups have emerged as the newest players in the tech world. We speak to Ula Sankowska, co-owner and co-CEO of MIM Fertility, one of Poland’s most exciting deep tech start-ups on a mission to revolutionise IVF.

 

How did MIM Fertility come about?

Ula Sankowska: I must admit that the idea was born from personal experience. For many years I was a patient of in-vitro clinics, my path to motherhood was long and winding.

I know what prospective patients go through and I know the shortcomings of the treatment. I want to help people to fulfil their dream of a desired child. If we manage to revolutionise infertility treatment, I will be able to say with a clear conscience that my lifelong dream has come true.

The second factor, for sure, that gave me an amazing kick to start MIM Fertility were the people who believed in the idea.

Here I am talking about Piotr Wygocki, co-CEO of MIM Fertility – a great Polish innovator and researcher. It was certainly his enthusiasm and faith in the idea that allowed us to develop and create technologies that today are commercialised globally.

How does your software help couples struggling to conceive?

US: With our AI-driven technologies we increase chances for people to become parents. We provide greater accuracy in the diagnostic and treatment process, reducing the time and cost associated with fertility treatments and leading to better outcomes for our customers.

We developed two software tools that promise to deliver these goals.

The first technology is EMBRYOAID – an application that supports skilled embryologists in choosing the most promising embryo for implantation.

Choosing the right embryo to be implanted for a woman is extremely important because it increases the chance of success, minimises complications and shortens the time to pregnancy.

The EMBRYOAID system learns how embryos develop over time and then our model uses this information to identify the best embryos for implantation.

By understanding the entire development process, the system is able to identify the right embryos even from just one image. This is a cheaper alternative to current analytical tools that are only available at the most expensive IVF clinics.

We believe that it will give clinicians the opportunity to choose the best embryo, thereby reducing the number of in vitro fertilisation cycles needed to achieve a successful pregnancy, improving the success rate and minimising the risk of multiple pregnancies.

Our other technology, FOLLISCAN, is an AI/ML software platform designed to identify, calculate and measure follicles of all sizes in a two-second sweep through the ovary during transvaginal ultrasound. This is a key test because it allows you to determine the fertility of a woman in a given cycle.

This test is performed several times during the IVF process itself and allows you to determine the timing of its individual stages.

Thanks to FOLLISCAN, the gynaecologist and medical staff will have access to highly specialised medical knowledge, so far reserved mainly for a small group of specialists.

In addition, the platform automates a large part of the activities that currently have to be performed by a human. This will significantly facilitate diagnostics in terms of the assessment of ovarian monitoring, as well as the development of follicles.

FOLLISCAN, we think, will improve the diagnosis of female fertility and contribute to the use of treatment methods that are better suited to the patient’s needs, increasing their effectiveness.

What makes your technology different?

US: In the case of FOLLISCAN we have a technology that can cooperate with any ultrasonographic machine, i.e., both 2D and 3D.

For example, our main competitors require us to use 3D mode, which is typically not used in the AFC examination but as well requires more advanced hardware.

As for EMBRYOAID, this is more about our transparent approach to the development of our tools that includes engaging into tests with clinics, explaining well limitations of our models, as well as working on the explainability of our tools.

Where are you with the business now?

US: We are offering our technologies to IVF centres and clinics globally. Starting from January this year, the MIM family have joined 15 IVF clinics from different continents.

We are truly happy that by empowering clinics with our AI-driven software, we have a real impact on the decisions making by doctors and thus influence the treatment of patients.

Our software was created with passion and with the conviction that, above all, it must provide real value to people who use it.

Our motto is quality. Solid and robust algorithms are solutions you can trust. We do not want to hand over something that would not be effective and transparent.

What are your long-term goals?

US: We aim to introduce AI into further aspects of the IVF process. Starting from individual and personalised patient care, through deeper understanding of factors that are important for the IVF procedure itself, and ending with AI support for pre and post implantation treatment.

It is important to stress that we are a deep-tech company, i.e., research that leads to the development of our products can take even years.

Hence, we have already started some of these research projects as well as are planning further development works. We truly believe that AI can greatly improve IVF and make it more accessible.

Some clinicians remain sceptical of the benefits of AI to their work. How do you deal with such perceptions?

US: There is almost no doubt that AI will become the technology of the 21st century and will enter into more and more aspects of our jobs and lives.

Such disruptive technologies usually raise questions and doubts as their introduction is clearly visible. Hence, we need to engage in education of the public on two levels.

First, we need to familiarise the public that this technology is helpful, for example by explaining that image editing or styling tools are based on cutting edge AI.

Second, we need to educate our users on how to apply our tools and what their limitations are. In order to build trust in our solutions, we take special care to make them robust and explainable.

Do you think we need more AI education in healthcare?

US: Certainly and MIM Fertility engages into this process in the context of fertility care. We present widely our solutions on specialistic conferences devoted not only to IVF but targeted at gynaecologists.

We are also inviting a wide range of IVF clinics to test our tools, giving them an opportunity for discussions and further explanations.

However, AI education is quite challenging, as fully understanding these methods requires deep mathematical knowledge.

Where do you see fertility care in ten years’ time when it comes to technology advances?

US: AI understands complex processes and dependences much better than we humans. This technology will only reveal its full potential when more aspects of IVF are digitised and amenable for analysis.

Only then will we be able to fully understand the process and help more people become parents.

For more info, visit mimfertility.ai.

Fertility

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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Fertility

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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