The problem of infertility affects over 48 million couples worldwide every year. It mainly affects women over 40, whose chances of becoming pregnant through artificial insemination decrease with age. Thanks to scientific research at the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Comenius University in Bratislava, Masaryk University in Brno and the subsequent financial contribution of the Czech holding group FABA Capital, the success of assisted reproduction by IVF (in vitro fertilization) has been substantially improved and will be now brought closer to the patients.
IVF is still the most effective method of infertility treatment. Several circumstances, such as the selection of suitable embryos, are crucial for a successful process. The new patent-protected technology identifies new miRNA molecules useful in such prediction. “Simply put, the technology is part of a diagnostic test that will predict a woman's current readiness for the artificial insemination procedure. Together with a unique method helping to select a suitable embryo, the technology will increase the success rate of the entire process,” says Associate Professor Miroslava Rabajdová from the Institute of Medical and Clinical Biochemistry at the University of Košice.
The presented innovative technology consists of a non-invasive collection of biological material without any damage to the embryo. “Analysing the obtained miRNA molecules in combination with the patient´s biological material as biomarkers proved to be a suitable approach. The molecules are thus able to assist in personalised medicine in predicting the success of IVF through the selection of a suitable embryo,” explains Associate Professor Katarína Šoltys from the Faculty of Science of Comenius University, adding: “I believe that the combination of molecular methods and the use of artificial intelligence in biomedicine can bring better healthcare and a higher quality of life not only for many infertile couples but for all of us.”
Part of the experimental research also took place in the laboratories of Masaryk University. “I was invited to the research to provide my experience in the field of high-throughput analysis of miRNA molecules in clinical material. We also participated in the implementation of our own sequencing analyses and experimental design to move the technology from the experiments in the laboratory towards potential application,” said Professor Ondřej Slabý from the Central European Institute of Technology (also known as CEITEC) and from the Faculty of Medicine at Masaryk University.
By bringing this technology into the application, the involved universities have become an important part of the solution to the societal problem of infertility, which affects tens of millions of couples worldwide every year. “It is very important that universities collaborate on research projects and that they link academic knowledge with the commercial sector. This is the basis for solving societal problems, as demonstrated by the case of this new IVF technology,” said Martin Kvizda, Vice-rector for external relations and life-long learning at Masaryk University.
The signing of the agreement on the transfer of intellectual property to the start-up FETUS, IVF a.s. took place on 20 December 2022 between the four parties. The task of the new start-up, which is part of the FABA Capital group, is now the commercialisation of the project within the framework of IVF embryo transfers. “By entering into this project, we want to reduce the number of miscarriages after IVF globally and increase the chances of families who want to have healthy offspring. The overall process of infertility treatment is emotionally very demanding, and when the first insemination goes wrong, the failure has major adverse effects on any further attempts. We are honoured to be part of the birth of new lives with a happy ending,” adds Robert Flocius, CEO of the FABA Group. As part of our effort to commercialize academic and university projects, a new incubator called FABAINCUBE has been established.
The new IVF technology first caught the public's attention at the Transfera Technology Day 2020, a competition organised by the national technology transfer platform Transfera.cz. The aim of this competition is to help connect scientific projects with commercial potential with the business community. Subsequently, the technology also scored points in Slovakia, where the inventors received the Technology Transfer Award in the Innovation category in 2021. “Once again it became obvious, that actively seeking and exploiting opportunities for contact with the business environment is the key to success. Participation in tech transfer-related competitions started the process of negotiations to transfer this intellectual property. As technology transfer centres, we are happy that the whole process was successfully completed and the technology is now ready to serve in practice,” said Jana Daňková, business development manager at the Masaryk University Technology Transfer Office, which helped to secure the first contact with the investor.