Innovators Worth Watching: Oma Fertility
Originally published on The Christensen Institute blog 8-25-22
On the heels of National Infertility Awareness Week, I wrote about three women’s health issues specific to infertility, and the imperative to address the cost and inaccessibility that characterize this corner of the health care market. Soon after publishing that piece, a former colleague informed me about Oma Fertility, which had recently emerged from stealth.
To learn more about Oma and its mission to improve access, affordability, and outcomes of IVF treatment, I spoke to their founder, Gurjeet Singh. Here, I put their model to our six-question test for disruptive potential. Are they an innovator worth watching? Absolutely. Read on to see why.
1. Does it target people whose only alternative is to buy nothing at all (nonconsumers) or who are overserved by existing offerings in the market?
Yes. Many of the 12% to 20% of couples who struggle with infertility are left as nonconsumers of care due to the price of services and the limited number of reproductive endocrinologists (REs) in the US. In 2018, there were only around 1,700 REs and 480 fertility clinics, leaving many to drive long hours to access care and wait months to be seen by a provider.
But access is the secondary issue after cost. A single IVF cycle ranges from $15,000-$30,000, pricing all but the wealthy or well-insured out of the market. Oma lowers the cost barrier by offering IVF for $9,000. While still not inexpensive, they are increasing affordability through an innovative approach.
2. Is the offering not as good as existing offerings as judged by historical measures of performance?
To be determined. Oma is studying the efficacy of its Sperm InSight second opinion tool, which helps embryologists select the “best” sperm cells for the IVF process. Early results indicate that use of the tool creates a significant increase in the number of viable day-5 embryos when compared to those created by embryologists’ traditional processes.
Typically, an embryologist looks at a sperm sample under a microscope for around 10 seconds, and in that time selects the most motile and morphologically ideal sperm (i.e., the best swimmers and those with a normal shape). The problem lies in the fact that there are around 100 million sperm in a sample, and the naked eye cannot evaluate them all in 10 seconds. Oma’s Sperm InSight tool helps the embryologist look at 20x more cells in the same amount of time. While their study has not been published at the time of this writing, the answer to this question is likely to be “no, it is actually better.”
3. Is the innovation simpler to use, more convenient, or more affordable than existing offerings?
Yes. It is more convenient and more affordable. By enhancing embryologists’ ability to pick sperm cells that are more likely to create a viable embryo, Oma enhances the likelihood that consumers will have to go through the IVF process fewer times. IVF success rates differ based on age and other health factors, but many people go through the process multiple times before they achieve a live birth, with many never achieving one at all. An innovation that reduces the number of times a couple goes through the process is both more convenient and more affordable. As noted above, the lower initial cost also makes Oma’s offering more affordable than existing options on the market.
4. Does the offering have a technology that enables it to improve and capture a larger market over time?
Yes. The technology underlying Oma’s second opinion tool is single-cell robotics, which could be used in many other health care applications outside of IVF, such as stem cell culture, and others.
5. Is the technology paired with an innovative business model that allows it to be sustainable?
Yes. To avoid the slow and uncertain process of selling into health systems or existing fertility clinics, Oma has created its own clinics that utilize Sperm InSight. They attract relatively new physicians interested in earning a salary and not having to advertise to attract patients. Oma does that for them so they can focus on delivering care. As value based care models have demonstrated, paying physicians a salary aligns incentives and enables them to spend the time required with patients to serve their needs more effectively.
Additionally, with a goal to automate the entire lab portion of the IVF process, Oma’s technology could further enhance the outcomes and lower the cost of a live birth by automating key functions of embryology.
6. Are existing providers motivated to ignore the new innovation and not feel threatened by it at the outset?
Yes. As noted above, the market is underserved and as Singh shared in our discussion, most REs have a six month wait list. As a result, they are likely to ignore Oma and not feel threatened by it at all.
Based on our six-question test and the other insights I learned in my discussion with Singh, Oma Fertility is definitely an innovator worth watching.