The future of fertility

Fertility treatments can be a daunting undertaking – but Merck’s monitoring platform can assist in that journey

Trying for a baby can be one of the most important decisions in a person’s life. For the 186 million people worldwide who suffer with fertility issues it is also the start of an emotional rollercoaster.
“Fertility treatment places a pretty high burden on people, both in terms of the time-demand and emotionally,” says Jan Kirsten, global head of fertility at science and technology company, Merck. “It’s not an easy treatment to go through.”


Beginning with the first successful pregnancies using Merck’s hormones in the early 1960s, and continuing with innovation in the technologies used in fertility treatment, from lab incubators to AI, Merck has been a partner to those looking to start a family for decades. Today, the success rate for couples relying on such treatments is now on a par with unassisted reproduction. Yet most will still require multiple attempts, with months of anxious waiting and frequent clinic trips, before successfully conceiving.
Improving that experience, Merck realised, would require something other than simply focusing on the treatment. So, in 2017 the company began to develop a monitoring platform that could better support people throughout their fertility journey. Now Merck has partnered with Dutch medtech firm Philips to take these technologies to the next stage.
“We’re looking to provide the clinic with a much closer connection to the patient, while making the experience feel seamless on the patient’s end,” Kirsten explains. “It’s about approaching fertility as a holistic experience and not just a matter of providing treatment.”
Always-on healthcare
Merck and Philips’ goal is to better connect clinicians and their patients, improving support in the ongoing management of their treatment, much of which they currently do at home without direct access to professional insight and advice.


“The outcome of fertility treatment will be influenced by many factors – stress, how you sleep, how you eat and so on,” says Philip’s chief innovation and strategy officer, Jeroen Tas. “Our aim is to give healthcare providers a fuller picture of the patient’s history so that they can better guide and support them throughout this process.”
By delivering a live view of the patient’s status, remote monitoring not only leaves clinicians more informed at the time of an appointment, but gives them capacity to intervene in real time, something that can be crucial to the success of a particular cycle of treatment.
“There are many important signs you can pick up, from heart rate to body temperature,” Tas explains. “These might trigger advice to the patient to make a behavioural change, say going to bed earlier. It could suggest to the clinician that we need a change in the person’s therapy, or it might be a red flag that something has gone wrong and they need to speak with the patient directly.”
The future of remote medicine
For Merck, this partnership is one component in a broader move into digital health that seeks to make treatment more comfortable for people undergoing in vitro fertilisation.
“Medical technology and drugs have traditionally been created separately, and so they haven’t always worked perfectly together,” Kirsten says. “Because we understand both sides we can build our technology to analyse the relevant effects of the treatment, which enables clinicians to adjust the treatment in response to the kind of information that our devices are monitoring.”


With Covid-19 leading to the closure of treatment centres worldwide, such an approach couldn’t be timelier. Philips has already accelerated the development of at-home monitor solutions for pregnant women in response to the pandemic, helping to reduce risk of exposure by minimising the need for clinic trips and physical contact.
“Covid proved that many components of healthcare can easily be done remotely, especially if they’re grounded in the proper data,” Tas says. “The pandemic has revealed that there is tremendous potential for technology to improve the connection between doctors and their patients and this is going to have a profound effect on how healthcare is delivered in the future.”
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