Fertility startups step up in Japan as demand for treatments increases

(Bloomberg) — A small number of startups are moving to address infertility issues in Japan, where patients are frustrated by a lack of treatment options in a country that suffers from the world’s lowest birth rate.

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Yukiko Nakai, one such entrepreneur, spent hours in packed infertility clinics counting the inefficiencies that led to already long wait times. She soon ran out of her vacation days at work. His take-home pay fell, while his out-of-pocket medical bills soared to nearly 10 million yen ($66,000).

Nakai, who had always dreamed of having a large family, said, “I was very depressed, and this feeling was made even worse by the uncertainty about whether the treatment would be successful.” After leaving her managerial role at Yahoo Japan, she founded Ark in 2021, an app developer that helps women’s clinics reduce patient waiting times through digitalization. “The knowledge that you can’t recapture every moment that has passed adds to the stress.”

Infertility treatment is in high demand in Japan, where the number of live births has fallen for eight consecutive years to another record low last year. One in 4.4 couples in Japan have undergone testing or treatment for infertility, and the number of babies born from assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization was one in 11.6 in 2021. The country is home to the world’s second largest number of assisted children. According to the International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies, the reproductive technology cycle follows that of China.

Next week marks two years since Japan expanded public health insurance coverage to include a small number of infertility treatments. That stamp of approval is driving even greater demand and creating long-term shortages in hormonal drugs such as…

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