Infertility is a growing global challenge, with 1 in 8 families now struggling to conceive. Sperm count has dropped almost 60% since 1973, and 1 in 10 women are diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and/or endometriosis during their childbearing years. This is not just a women’s health issue — it is a family health issue, a population health issue, a health equity issue, and a planetary health issue. And emerging research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic may have an even more deleterious effect on future birth rates.
At Lux, we seek out breakthrough science advancing humanity — backing mission-driven entrepreneurs with ambition and grit who are building businesses grounded in technology to solve some of the world’s most intractable problems. In this spirit, we are proud to be leading Alife Health’s $9.5M seed financing and supporting Founder and CEO Paxton-Maeder York in the team’s quest to apply AI and human-centered design to help mitigate the growing fertility crisis.
We first got to know Paxton when he was a rising product management star at Lux portfolio company Auris Health (acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2019); it was abundantly clear that he is an exceptional leader and visionary. A biomedical engineer who also studied data science, Paxton not only has the technical know-how to build and lead this team, he also has a deep personal passion for the mission rooted in his own family’s experiences with infertility. After helping build surgical robots to fight lung cancer at Auris, Paxton recognized the unique opportunity to deploy advanced AI and computer vision to help achieve better outcomes for families facing infertility.
Founded in 2020, Alife Health seeks to improve fertility care via advanced computer imaging, starting with in vitro fertilization (IVF). Alife Health’s technology platform aims to empower clinical decision making with personalized treatment recommendations to help clinicians maximize a patient’s chances of success while lowering costs and barriers to access. We’ve applied advanced machine learning in countless other medical imaging fields, but we are only just starting to scratch the surface on how it can be used to advance family and reproductive health. There is a tremendous opportunity for technology to transform the IVF experience and ultimately contribute to advancing human health and health equity, Alife Health is leading this effort with its unique, technology-forward, human-centered approach.
There is growing consensus that the vast majority of infertility cases — perhaps up to 90% — can be resolved through scientific intervention. And yet, since the first IVF baby was born in 1978, there has been only incremental innovation in the field. Costs and coverage for IVF treatment are prohibitive for most families in the U.S., further contributing to health inequities. And unfortunately, fertility is yet another example in healthcare where under-served and marginalized populations are disproportionately affected — as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) families are less likely to have access to fertility care and less likely to have successful outcomes via IVF when they do receive care. What’s more, emerging research is showing that BIPOC families are categorically left out of marketing and awareness campaigns for fertility care, resulting in under-utilization even when care is available. There is also a deep history of racist and unethical practices used against BIPOC communities and acknowledged racial bias. Alife Health is committed to addressing these inequities and contributing to inclusivity in clinical research.
Dr. Kim Thornton, a board-certified Reproductive Endocrinologist at Boston IVF and a Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School, believes there is more and more evidence that race and ethnicity may impact outcomes in fertility treatment. An advisor to Alife Health and appointee to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Task Force, Dr. Thornton believes “it is important to first acknowledge that differences exist and then explore, through the use of artificial intelligence, what those factors may be. What we learn will then allow us to address these specific factors so that we might begin to eliminate those disparities.”
I have spent a long time looking for the cutting edge technology that can improve fertility options, and I am thrilled to be backing this team. We are joined by an incredible group of co-investors, including: Amplo Ventures (Sheel Tyle), IA Ventures (Jesse Beyroutey), Springbank Collective (Elana Berkowitz), Anne Wocjicki (Founder and CEO of 23andMe), Fred Moll (Founder of Intuitive Surgical and Auris), Amira Yahyaoui (Founder of Mos and Sequoia Scout), Arthur Patterson (founder of Accel), Dr. Tom Lee (Founder of One Medical Group and Galileo Health), Bijan Salehizadeh (Managing Director of Navimed) and the founders of Ramp and Headway, as well as an impressive cohort of advisors including Tatyana Beldock (former Senior Director of New Ventures at Johnson & Johnson) and Josh De Fonzo (Lux Health + Tech CEO and former President of Auris). Alife Health‘s team includes engineers and scientists from Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Johns Hopkins, and it has created a consortium of clinical partnerships with leading clinics and cutting edge physicians and researchers to bring clinical value to patients.
Here’s to new beginnings with Alife Health in their pursuit of a healthier future.