Israeli startup looks to improve IVF for millions of couples

The technology, created by Israeli startup Embryonics, could significantly increase the success rate of fertility treatments in the future.

Embryonics employees at the company's office in Haifa (photo credit: LIYA ROSE-MAGEN)
Embryonics employees at the company's office in Haifa
(photo credit: LIYA ROSE-MAGEN)
For the first time, six successful IVF pregnancies have been made using artificial intelligence that selects which embryo to implant in the patient. The technology, created by Israeli startup Embryonics, could significantly increase the success rate of fertility treatments in the future, the company said.
Embryonics' technology, called Ubar, outperformed a panel of embryologists in predicting which embryos will result in pregnancy by about 20%, the company said. It also outperformed the human experts by nearly 30% in recommending which embryos not to use, which can lead to significant cost savings and prevent miscarriages.   
"This is a major breakthrough in the field of fertility treatments," a company spokesman said. "IVF treatments have had the same success rates for the last 30 years. With an estimated 170 million couples per year seeking fertility treatments, this has incredible medical and financial potential."
IVF (In vitro fertilization) involves combining a sperm and an egg outside the body and growing the fertilized eggs in an incubator for several days. An embryologist then decides which embryo to transfer by using grading systems that differ from lab to lab but the success rate is only 30% in the United States and even less globally.

The company's ongoing clinical study at the Nadiya Clinic of Reproductive Medicine in Kyiv has reported its first 6 pregnancies while 5 other participants are awaiting test results. The solution is expected to get clearance in Europe in the next few weeks to begin use in hospitals. In the United States, the company plans a clinical trial at several sites with the expectation of obtaining approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of 2021.
 
The average cost of an IVF baby in the United States is $66,000, the company noted.  

Embryonics, which was founded in 2018 in Haifa, uses new advances in machine learning, and was developed on a uniquely curated data set from tens of thousands of IVF cycles, including time-lapse videos of embryos. Beyond embryo selection, for which they are the first to demonstrate improved pregnancy rates, the company is also using this technology to create personalized hormonal treatments for IVF patients and other solutions such as recommending which eggs to preserve.
 
"All this together, based on our calculations, will improve the overall success rate of an IVF process by an average of 10%, which is a lot of - what we call - AI babies, a lot of money and long periods of time," the company's CEO, Dr. Yael Zamir, said. "We are not trying to mimic the human expert, we are introducing a new level of accuracy."
Dr.Yael Zamir
 
Zamir, a mother of four, was known as the first Haredi medical doctor to graduate from an Israeli medical school, the company's spokesman noted. 
 
Embryonics has raised $4 million to date, with its largest investor the Manhattan-based Schusterman Family Investment Office.