Egg freezing ‘startups’ have Wall Street talking — and traditional fertility doctors worried

Since launching in 2016 in New York, Extend has overseen nearly 2,000 egg-freezing cycles, the process of retrieving and then freezing a woman’s eggs. A co-founder of the company, Dr. Joshua Klein, anticipates tens of thousands more cycles in Extend’s future. Extend plans to open locations on the West Coast before 2020.

“Just looking at the numbers, I think egg freezing as an industry is here to stay,” Santemma said. “The market’s growing 25 percent a year.”

Santemma isn’t the only investor shelling out for egg-freezing startups. Kindbody’s backers, Silver said, include Perceptive Life Sciences, a biotech hedge fund, and RRE, a venture capital firm.

Trellis Fertility Studio, which launched in November 2018 in New York, with plans to expand throughout North America, is under the umbrella of IntegraMed Fertility, an extensive network of fertility clinics backed by the private equity firm Sagard Capital.

As early as 2017, Wall Street investors were identifying the fertility market as one to watch. “The U.S. fertility clinic market has come of age and is ripe for a merger and acquisition cycle,” Capstone Partners, an investment banking firm, wrote in 2017. “The wave is already beginning.”

Investors are betting big on the buying power — and interests of — millennials, zeroing in on independent, proactive single women marrying later in life than previous generations, if at all. These women are fully aware of ticking biological clocks as in vitro fertilization struggles for many couples have become more mainstream.

“I’m a graduate student, I haven’t even started my career yet and I’m very single,” said Alex Yoss, 28, at a recent egg-freezing informational session hosted by Kindbody. “I’m trying to take over what I want with my life.”

Trellis Fertility Studio in New York City.Mary Pflum / NBC News

In 2009, just 475 women in the United States froze their eggs, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. By 2016, that number had skyrocketed to nearly 7,300. And, according to Gina Bartasi, founder of Kindbody, the numbers continue to grow.

But doctors are growing worried by the rush to private egg-freezing facilities like Extend Fertility and Kindbody. Dr. Sherman Silber, head of the Infertility Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis, helped pioneer the vitrification process that makes modern-day egg freezing possible. But he’s still concerned that private boutiques are more focused on wooing — and taking money from — patients than they are about providing quality care.

“Investors see it as a potential for a big killing, and they’re not going to have any interest in medical quality,” Silber said. “Most of these investors are just looking to show an increased profit every year, and they plan to sell for a huge gain in three to five years.”

Silber said he’s concerned women who turn to profit-driven egg-freezing boutiques are not necessarily getting all of the information they need, especially when that information is being provided at cocktail party-themed informational sessions, like the ones Kindbody hosts.

“We think the women need to be properly and soberly informed, not with wine in their head,” Silber said.