The fertility space has seen a wave of innovation, and as a result, a wave of interest from investors.
Crunchbase found that investments into fertility startups have been at an all-time high in 2021, up 89 percent from the previous year. Moreover, even as birth rates are declining, interest in fertility services have actually surpassed pre-pandemic levels, according to a JAMA study.
This kind of interest has caught the eye of Tara Comonte, CEO of TMRW Life Sciences, who says there is a huge market for technologies that can disrupt this market. TMRW has created an end-to-end automated platform for the identification, tracking, management and storage of frozen eggs and embryos.
“Human IVF [In vitro fertilization] has been around 40 years. While there have been significant medical advancements in IVF, the management of the frozen eggs and embryos has remained unchanged since the beginning. It’s still manual and analog and looks like it did decades ago,” says Comonte, who is an IVF mom herself. “Fertility clinics were not equipped to deal with the increase in scale that they have seen in the last few years.”
TMRW recently raised $105 million in an equity round led by Transformation Capital and included participation from GV (formerly Google Ventures), Casdin Capital, Peter Thiel, Anne and Susan Wojcicki, and existing investors 5AM Ventures and Life Sciences Innovation. Comonte spoke with Health Evolution about her transition from President and CFO of Shake Shack to TMRW Life Sciences, the increased market opportunity for fertility services technology, and more.
How did you transition from Shake Shack into health care?
When you look at where I was before Shake Shack, I spent four years at Getty Images and the better part of 15 years at global media businesses. There are actually more common threads throughout each stage of my career than it might appear with the industry variation. Each of the companies I’ve worked for, including this one, have had technology at its core and has been at a point in their journey where they’re using technology to really benefit the end users and the broader industry in which they operate. TMRW is no exception. We’re bringing technology to a piece of the lab that is overdue, quite frankly. Shake Shack was the same. It was a company scaling globally that pivoted over my four years there to moving from a purely physical concept to one that has digital embedded in every point of the customer journey. It was a really easy transition. It was about tech. It was about culture. It was about taking a great company and scaling it globally. All of those things have been prevalent in every company I’ve worked at. I was fortunate to join the board of TMRW when it started. I took the role of CEO six months ago and I’ve had the benefit of watching the team being built and the product taking shape as it’s gone to market.
Why is there increased interest in fertility services?
Unfortunately, challenges with fertility have historically been unspoken about for the most part. Therefore, we assume it’s a niche market. Infertility impacts 15 percent of couples. One in eight women seek help for infertility. We all know someone that is touching some part of the IVF world. I’m thrilled it’s becoming more of a mainstream conversation and communities are forming to support each other. Outside of those statistics, you have some societal factors contributing to the growth. The LGBTQ+ community are turning to IVF to grow their families. Women are having children later for a variety of reasons, potentially focusing on professional development and their careers. More people are planning to have children on their own and taking control of that journey. More women are being active around fertility preservation and freezing their eggs ahead of time. Celebrities are talking about it. Michelle Obama kept her IVF secret for 20 years and then revealed it in her book. We’re just talking more openly about it.
I am an IVF mom. My sister is currently going through IVF because she discovered she has a rare genetic disorder. My best friend and his husband saved for 10 years so they could have their daughter via surrogate. As I look around my own life, it’s just becoming much more open as people think of different ways to fill their families. It’s much less of a taboo subject. I look forward to the day when people are generally able to express their feelings on infertility and share those challenges.
What organizations do you work with?
We work directly with IVF clinics. We’re very focused on helping them safely scale and meet their demands. We started commercial operations in the U.S. earlier this year. We are working with some of the leading clinics in the U.S. including Boston IVF and CCRM. We are rolling out across the U.S. and we also plan to go commercially live in U.K. next year. We have a team on the ground and conversations with a number of clinics there. IVF is growing everywhere. Infertility is not limited to one country. This is an opportunity for TMRW to bring this kind of scalable solution outside the U.S.
What the big challenges you are helping those organizations solve?
These IVF clinics were never set up to manage millions of frozen eggs and embryos. They have become accidental bio depositories. That’s not what they are in the business of doing. They want to meet the demand. I was talking to one clinic that said there’s a 9-12 month waiting list. I know clinics across the country who cap the number of patients they take every month. What you’re seeing is this incredible growth for all the reasons we talked about, and clinics need to meet this demand safely. They need to deliver it with the highest standard of care. We solve for them their ability to track, monitor and safely manage increasing volumes of frozen eggs and embryos, which are the heart of every IVF procedure. They really are this inflection point where the existing infrastructure is unsustainable. We work closely with our clinic partners. We have 12 embryologists on our team. This platform was built hand in hand with our clinic partners. It was built by embryologists for embryologists. They can use this as a differentiator in the marketplace. It’s helping them solve a very real problem.