Martin Varsavsky is setting up what some might call “one stop shopping” for younger women who want to freeze their eggs so they can have children later in life.
And his first customer is, well, his wife.
On Monday, Varsavsky officially launched his $200 million start-up, Prelude Fertility.
The company is offering what it calls the Prelude Method, a four-step process from egg freezing to “single embryo transfers.”
The first baby expected to be born from this process is the child Varsavsky’s wife, Nina, is expecting in January.
It will be the couple’s third child together and Varsavsky’s seventh.
In addition, the company is focusing on women in their 20s and early 30s, the most fertile years for most people.
“We are giving them a greatly improved chance of having healthy babies when they are ready,” Varsavsky told Healthline.
A growing market
Prelude is trying to tap into what is clearly a growing market.
The average age for women in the United States giving birth to their first child rose from just under 25 in 2000 to slightly higher than 26 in 2014, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The proportion of first births for women ages 30 to 34 increased from 16 percent to 21 percent in that same time period. The proportion for women ages 35 and older rose from 7 percent to 9 percent.
In 2014, Apple and Facebook became the first major companies to add egg freezing to their healthcare benefits.
Early this year, the Pentagon announced a pilot program to provide egg and sperm freezing to troops in an attempt to keep soldiers, both male and female, enlisted longer.
In addition, Prelude officials note that about 18 percent of women are unable to have a child while another 20 percent have only one child when they actually wanted more.
Prelude’s focus is on younger women who are at the height of their fertility as opposed to women over the age of 35 who want to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) before it’s too late.
“It’s more than just an insurance policy (for younger women),” Dr. Daniel Shapiro, the chief medical director of Reproductive Biology Associates, who will also serve as clinical director for Prelude, told Healthline. “It’s a way for them to manage their family planning.”
Four steps in process
Prelude has come up with a four-step process for women who want to delay their pregnancies.
The first step is called fertility preservation.
This is where women’s eggs and men’s sperm are frozen when they are most fertile — their early 20s to mid-30s.
Shapiro said this not only allows people to plan their pregnancies for future years, it also reduces the chances of infants being born with diseases and other medical problems.
He said studies have shown that older eggs as well as older sperm can increase the risk of these abnormalities.
The second step in the process is embryo creation.
- fertility preservation
- embryo creation
- genetic testing
- single embryo transfer
This is when the eggs and sperm are unfrozen and combined to create embryos when Prelude clients are ready to start a family.
The third step is genetic screening.
This is where Prelude scientists screen the potential parents for common inherited diseases. This is done before embryos are implanted.
If any risk is uncovered, the embryo is tested for those specific diseases. The embryos are also tested for chromosomal abnormalities.
If the decision is made to move forward, then an embryo is selected that will maximize the likelihood of a healthy birth.
That leads to the final step of single embryo transfer
Prelude officials say using only one embryo reduces the risk of multiple births that sometimes occurs with IVF.
Costs and convenience
Prelude officials say they want to provide the joy of having children to more people as well as at a more convenient time for couples.
Varsavsky said there are two dichotomies at play here.
He said people are most fertile at a time when they don’t necessarily want children.
He said they also are most able to afford children when it’s not the most opportune time to be having children.
Varsavsky said women freezing their eggs in their 20s and early 30s preserves those fertile products for later use.
He added his company is making the process more affordable.
Prelude charges clients $199 a month to store their frozen eggs and sperm. There’s a minimum of three years on those payments and a maximum of 10 years.
Clients who pay for fewer years incur additional charges when the fertilization process begins. Those who pay for 10 years don’t incur extra charges. They are able to continue to store their eggs and sperm beyond 10 years.
“We are bridging the gap biologically and we are bridging the gap financially,” said Versovksy.
Science is changing society
To launch this venture, Prelude purchased majority stakes in Reproductive Biology Associates, the largest IVF clinic in the Southeast.
It also bought a majority stake in My Egg Bank, the largest frozen donor egg bank in the country.
As fertility services expand, there have been critics who feel that perhaps these programs are upsetting the natural order of things.
Shapiro responds by saying if we left everything up to nature, most of us would die by the age of 45 from diseases or other conditions.
He does acknowledge fertility procedures are creating a larger group of older parents, people who could be in their 70s when their children are in college.
However, he said that phenomenon fits in with new medical research.
“People are living longer and healthier and, as science advances, age is becoming just a number,” he said.
So, where is all this headed?
Zsolt Peter Nagy, Ph.D., an embryologist and fertility specialist who serves as Prelude’s scientific director, said the rules of procreation may change.
In the future, Nagy told Healthline, sex might be just for fun and IVF-type procedures might be the main system for reproduction.