This startup wants to bring clarity to the complex world of IVF

About 180 million people globally suffer from infertility. In the United States, one in eight families have trouble conceiving. The statistics are only getting worse, as male infertility and miscarriages continue to increase.

Alife Health, a San Francisco-based startup founded by Paxton Maeder-York, thinks it can help. The startup wants to use artificial intelligence to increase fertility outcomes. Specifically, it wants to optimize in vitro fertilization, a fertility treatment that requires a series of expensive and emotionally-taxing procedures with varied success rates.

Founded last year, the startup just raised a $9.5 million seed round, led by Lux Capital. Other investment firms include Amplo, IA Ventures and Springbank Collective as well as angel investors such as Anne Wojcicki, the founder and CEO of 23andMe, Fred Moll, the founder of Intuitive Surgical and Auris, and Amira Yahyaoui, the founder of Mos and Sequoia Scout.

“I personally believe that improving the quality of care through personalized treatments and reducing costs by increasing the success outcome rate can be incredibly impactful here, not just for the broader population but also specifically for minority groups,” Maeder-York said.

The founder began his career building surgical robots to fight lung cancer at Auris Health which was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2019. Now, he’s onto finding a way to help physicians and patients go through the process of IVF.


In vitro fertilization, or IVF, takes on average three to six cycles to get pregnant, and each cycle can cost between $10,000 to $20,000 in the United States. Every woman who goes through the process has to be injected with hormones weekly or biweekly – and even then, success is varied. And beyond steep costs and a long process, anyone who goes through the IVF process often has to endure the emotional toll.

Alife Health could alleviate some uncertainty around the complex process if it succeeds.

Currently, there are startups that focus on disrupting IVF from its cost to its accessibility. Maeder-York thinks that there is no single point solution that can fix the process, so he wants to optimize each part, step by step, from education and awareness, and clinical workflows to the actual embryo selection.

While Alife Health’s long-term goal is to use AI in all aspects of the IVF process, at this point, the technology is only used in one step for Alife Health: the embryo selection process.

Alife Health plans to begin its AI-powered IVF solution through embryo selection. During IVF, future parents might create multiple embryos. It’s then on the doctor to look at that embryo image through a microscope and figure out which is most likely to survive, taking into account patient information.

Alife Health is inserting machine learning based on a massive set of historical data it has aggregated, into the embryo selection equation. Maeder-York said that they plan to use data to understand what the “optimal order of transfer is” and then improve chances of a pregnancy, so people don’t have to go through IVF for the third or fourth time.

“It’s been trained on thousands and thousands of images, knowing that this image and this patient turned into a successful pregnancy, “he said. Once machine learning finds a pattern it can move forward with a recommendation and help future parents prioritize which embryos to transfer.

Pandemic baby

Alife Health is not alone. Two other startups,Embryonic and Mojo, claim they have the AI needed to spot a healthy embryo and improve IVF success.

Israel-based Embryonic is in the early stages of its business and has minimal efficacy proof at this point. Mojo uses microscopy hardware and AI software to focus on sperm counts and then better pick strong sperm for the IVF. Internally testing of Mojo Pro shows that the system is 97% accurate compared to manual sperm counting.

Alife Health is a hardware agnostic program so unlike Mojo, for example, a provider doesn’t need to use or buy a special microscope to use its product.

Deena Shakir, partner at Lux Capital, is joining Alife Health’s board as part of the translation. Shakir said she spent over a year meeting with the team and other IVF-focused startups to develop her thesis before eventually cutting a check. She pointed out a number of reasons that Alife Health stood out to her, primarily its focus on an end-to-end solution at the IVF process, but also its clinician-friendly approach.

“Other kludgey solutions require additional interfaces, hardware, [and] time,” she said. “Clinicians don’t have an appetite for that in their daily workflows. It needs to be intuitive.”

Deena Shakir, partner at Lux Capital, and Paxton Maeder-York, founder of Alife Health

Along with being a software-only solution, Alife Health sees part of its competitive edge as its partnerships with clinics. It has spent years cultivating a network of IVF clinics – and their data on prior cases, treatments and outcomes – to get a representative set that could be used to help any person receiving IVF treatment, it says.

“Unfortunately, women have been consistently underrepresented in research and minority women, black women have been incredibly underrepresented in research,” Maeder-York said. “The fact that our data set is so well stratified and representative of these groups means that when we [see] a patient of one off these minority groups, we’re going to be in a really unique position to give them answers and personalized care.”

Alife Health declined to release information about the efficacy of its AI, and it is still yet to get regulatory approval. Fittingly, millions of dollars should help it get to this next, and crucial phase.

Related Articles

A startup that raised $175 million to fix primary and urgent care is still struggling with what its CEO called the 'most complex' problem in healthcare

Summary List PlacementSome of healthcare’s problems are so complex that even the most well-funded startups struggle to fix them.
Carbon Health cofounder and CEO Eren Bali found out as much as his company tried to make prices for doctor’s visits, routine procedures like blood tests, and comparative prices for diagnostic tools like MRIs and x-rays transparent for patients, a feat that sounded simple at first but quickly ballooned into a much larger, systemic problem.
In a Twitter thread posted on December 27, Bali ran through the challenges he and his team had identified in trying to create a menu of sorts for different procedures and treatments for Carbon Health patients.
In the end, he ultimately said the fix lies with insurance companies — not healthcare providers — to fix the way patients and clinics are expected to pay for healthcare in the United States.
“The problem is on the payer side,” Bali told Business Insider. “The payer systems are old and antiquated, and that’s opaque to providers. We are doing all we can on the provider side.”
Read more: $1.5 billion digital-health startup Ro wants to be your online doctor. Here’s how its coronavirus response rooted in rapid at-home testing fits into the new unicorn’s long-term strategy.
Calculating prices ahead of visits proved difficult
Carbon Health serves a wide variety of patients with its urgent and primary care services. It offers booking through an app, and also added virtual visits to any patient seeking care but hesitant or unable to go into one of its physical clinics.
Ideally, Bali said, Carbon would be able to show patients the costs of these services upfront so that the doctor and patient can decide on the best course of treatment together, but hasn’t made as much progress as he would like.
Some relatively new healthcare entrants like Walmart have similar ambitions in making shopping for healthcare just as easy as shopping for groceries. Patients can find Walmart’s cash prices online, such as a primary care visit that costs $40.
Carbon Health has developed a system that works well for patients without insurance, Bali said, because pricing is more straightforward. It created a data analysis tool that looks at different inputs such as existing conditions, Carbon’s cost of service, and other factors to provide an up-front cost to uninsured patients, Bali said. For example, Carbon charges uninsured patients $195 for a primary care sick visit and $69 for a virtual visit, according to its website.
But it was when that same system was trained for patients with insurance that things started to unravel, Bali said. The calculated costs for patients with similar backgrounds, insurance plans, and symptoms only matched 40% of the time, Bali said.
“We can’t explain the difference,” Bali said.
Insurance companies are built on out-dated systems
Part of the variance can be explained by how complex insurance plans are, Bali said. Each plan is essentially unique to the individual that has it, and coverage can range widely even among similar plans offered by the same insurance company.
That’s not something that even the most sophisticated data analytics model can fix, Bali explained. If healthcare providers like Carbon want to tell patients how much they can expect to pay for a visit and associated procedures, insurance companies need to update how they bill both patients and providers.
“It’s driven around the inadequate system,” Angela Miles, head of revenue cycle at Carbon Health, told Business Insider. “We need to rebuild that from a payer standpoint to get to a more modern standpoint.”
More complexity leads to increased costs
Startups like Oscar Health are already attempting to bring insurance companies into a more modern model, Bali said, but larger companies have yet to shift in a meaningful way.
Those that do change, albeit in a more superficial way, actually make the problem worse by making it even more complicated, Bali said, because the added complexity adds time, which adds costs.
“A lot of work that goes towards decreasing healthcare costs is making the system more complicated,” Bali said. “My theory is that things that drive increased cost in healthcare is due to increasing complexity because you can’t be transparent and compete on price.”SEE ALSO: The founder of a healthcare venture fund that just raised $200 million shares why she wants to back founders that are building businesses for their communities
Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Warren Buffett lives in a modest house that’s worth .001% of his total wealth


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Receive the latest news

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

Get notified about chronicles from TreatMyBrand directly in your inbox