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17.04
2024

Bringing male fertility into clearer focus: AKYmed’s disruptive approach

Infertility affects men and women pretty much equally across the globe – and yet it is often regarded as a women’s health issue. Why is this? The Managing Director of AKYmed, Yulia Karlova, spoke to us about her company’s pioneering work in male fertility analysis and her hopes for the future of assisted reproductive technology (ART).

Can you briefly explain AKYmed’s mission – and how it became what it is today?

AKYmed’s mission is to analyse male fertility through advanced software solutions, serving both healthcare professionals and their patients. And we also work on animal reproduction, supporting veterinarians, breeders and conservation specialists.

I’ve been in the field of human and animal reproduction since 2010, when I was looking for a project for my master’s thesis. Within this framework, I started working for a company called Biophos, which had developed a computer-assisted sperm analysis (CASA) system called QualiSperm. I immediately connected with the company’s mission and excelled in this stimulating environment, so, when I finished my studies and Biophos asked me to join the team, it was a no-brainer. A few years after that, the CEO stepped down, so I decided to buy the assets of the company – the source code, patents and everything related to this – and relaunch as AKYmed in 2019.

Since then, we’ve gone from strength to strength, taking on new clients both in Switzerland and internationally. We’re now one of the main players in CASA, offering a unique suite of services driven by cutting-edge technology.

We’re developing an AI-driven time-lapse video to assess how an embryo might develop

Can you give us a taste of these services – how do you analyse male fertility?

It’s actually easier to assess male fertility than female fertility, because there are fewer factors involved – which makes it all more surprising that this is not always properly executed in fertility clinics at the moment.

So, we provide our clients – clinics, labs and hospitals – with the software and hardware needed to analyse their patients’ sperm: via a spermogram, they can count the number of cells, look at their shape and assess their motility to get an overall picture of the situation. Depending on the results, they can then make recommendations as to future treatment options. For example, if the sperm looks OK and there are no serious problems with the female partner’s fertility, it would be advisable for a couple to pursue artificial insemination rather than a more invasive procedure like in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

We’re also looking into advanced technology like artificial intelligence (AI) to extend the functionality of our systems – for example, we plan to leverage a deep machine learning algorithm to assess trends and make predictions as to treatment outcomes. We’re even developing an AI-driven time-lapse video to assess how an embryo might develop, based on our analysis of the given sperm sample: moving forward, this will be key to improving the success rate of pregnancy.

It’s important to remember that there are two partners to consider in fertility treatment, not just one

The fertility analysis market is currently booming, but is there an undue focus on female infertility?

In my opinion, yes. It’s important to remember that there are two partners to consider in fertility treatment, not just one – and this should inform what route you go down. Both the man and woman, if we’re speaking about a heterosexual couple, should be carefully analysed before embarking on treatment. I’ve already mentioned that we would recommend artificial insemination instead of IVF or ICSI in the case of high-density, mobile sperm and good reproductive functionality in the female partner – which can save a couple considerable time, energy and money, depending on where they are being treated. For example, in Switzerland, artificial insemination is covered by insurance, whereas IVF is not. That’s why you shouldn’t underestimate the male fertility factor and send a couple straight to IVF treatment as the default: knowledge is power in this situation.

The male fertility market remains relatively underfunded compared with the female fertility market – but it has huge potential for growth, thanks to an increasing awareness of male fertility issues alongside advances in the wider market. In 2023, the value of the global male fertility market reached approximately US$4 billion, with a growth rate of around 4%. Meanwhile, the overall assisted reproductive technology (ART) market was valued at US$21.32 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach US$45.06 billion by 2026. We’re excited to be at the forefront of this growth.

I think it would be beneficial to introduce a preventative aspect to men’s healthcare

Are there any specific measures a man can take to improve his fertility?

It’s all about lifestyle: what you eat, what you drink, how you live your life. A recent study from the University of Geneva also revealed the impact of technology like mobile phones: many men carry their phone in the pocket of their jeans, which can impact sperm quality in the long term. Similarly, going to saunas regularly or cycling a lot can have an effect.

In addition, we need to consider factors like stress that affect your overall health status. Across the healthcare sector, we’re trying to make the connection between the mind and body – that’s something we can all work on to improve every aspect of life.

Related to this, I think it would be beneficial to introduce a preventative aspect to men’s healthcare. Many women attend a check-up with a gynaecologist every year, but this is rare for men. It can create nasty surprises down the road, especially in the context of more couples postponing having children.

How do you see the fertility market evolving in the next year or two? In which areas would you like to see further innovation?

First of all, innovation has to come from regulatory change. Currently, there are a lot of restrictions on new fertility techniques and devices, so it takes time to bring them to market. Innovation is often delayed by red tape. Of course, it’s important to be mindful of ethical considerations in this field, but we need to keep moving forward.

I’d like to see more progress in genetic testing – especially self-testing for men. It would be great to see even more B2C products like at-home test kits or kits to collect samples at home for cryo sperm banks.

Finally, I think we should focus more on fertility solutions for LGBTQ+ couples, like surrogacy. In so many countries across the world, there are still barriers to treatment if you’re not a heterosexual, married couple. Social trends are certainly changing over time, but it’s time for the main players in the market to embrace and endorse other visions of the family.

Our next goal is to become a global leader in the field

Where do you see AKYmed going over the next few years? We know that you also work in animal reproduction – how does this inflect your approach to human fertility solutions?

Regulations around human reproduction are much stricter than those around animal reproduction. So, at AKYmed, we’ve developed radical algorithms and approaches that we test first in the animal sphere, refining the technology, before transitioning to the human sphere. And while human patient data has to be handled very sensitively, we can harness precise data samples from animals, improving both our quantitative and qualitative analysis to ensure that we’re on the right track.

With all this in mind, our next goal is to become a global leader in the field. We have many groundbreaking ideas, which I unfortunately can’t share yet, but watch this space – we’ve got various developments up our sleeve to make our system even better!

Yulia Karlova
Managing Director of AKYmed
Yulia Karlova is a recognised specialist in the field of reproductive biotechnology and fertility medical devices. She holds an MSc in Computer Science as well as an MSc in Management and Technology Entrepreneurship from EPFL. Her professional journey started at Biophos SA, where she originally joined the team as an intern for her master’s thesis. Her outstanding skills and leadership qualities soon led her to more senior roles, including Business Strategy and Marketing Manager, Head of Software Development and eventually interim Chief Operating Officer (COO).

Then, in 2019, Yulia acquired Biophos SA’s assets and rebranded as AKYmed, where she continued to drive innovation in computer-aided sperm analysis (CASA). Under her leadership, AKYmed has become a key provider for andrology labs and clinics, not just in Switzerland but internationally.

In 2022, Yulia expanded her entrepreneurial portfolio by founding Noah Genetics, which has introduced a suite of revolutionary new solutions, including fertility analysis, new generation sequencing, sperm cryopreservation biobanking and optimised breeding schemes for animals. These advancements are setting new industry standards in genetic conservation and aquaculture, reinforcing Yulia’s reputation as a pioneer in biotechnological innovation and sustainability.

AKYmed works in the field of reproductive technology, developing next-generation male fertility analysis solutions for doctors, laboratories, clinics, hospitals, breeding studs and research institutes.
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