Some 70 years after the contraceptive pill for women was introduced, a male pill is set to go to human trials this year. Meanwhile, a host of bio-tech start-ups are offering sperm analysis—with home collection—and sperm freezing for men who want to delay having children for career or other reasons.

This shift to men as a focus of fertility—and infertility—has implications not just for gender dynamics but also for culture and business. For example, employers who have been covering egg freezing for female employees might similarly start looking at sperm freezing as a health benefit. Low male fertility is also considered a canary in the coal mine, and early sperm analysis may also offer clues about overall health.

In January 2022, Ro, a New York-based telehealth company valued at $7 billion, bought Brooklyn start-up Dadi, which collects sperm samples at clients’ homes in temperature-controlled kits and sends them to labs for analysis and freezing. The acquisition came on the back of Ro buying women-focused Modern Fertility, strengthening its position as a sexual health destination.

“We see a massive opportunity in reproductive health,” CEO Zachariah Reitano told Fast Company.

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Ro kit

They’re not the only ones. Boston-based startup Legacy sells home kits for sperm analysis, and partners with sperm-freezing centers. It has raised $20 million in funding from backers such as Y Combinator and Bain Capital Ventures.

Founder Khaled Kteily said he got the idea after he spilled hot tea on his lap in a car, suffering second-degree burns and sparking fear for his future fertility. Kteily envisions a wide range of candidates for sperm freezing, including soldiers about to be deployed; same-sex couples who plan to use a surrogate; and transgender people who want to preserve their fertility before they transition.

“We see this as something that every man might do as they go off to college, and investors see that big picture,” Kteily told TechCrunch.

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Legacy kit

While Dadi and Legacy collect sperm samples from home and transport them to a lab for analysis, others, such as Los Angeles-based Yo and London-based ExSeed Health, use devices attached to smartphones to analyze sperm at home.

Scientists are also getting closer to creating a male contraceptive pill. While women have a range of pills, patches and intrauterine devices to prevent conception, men still have only two methods—condoms and a vasectomy.

Last month, scientists at the University of Minnesota announced that a new pill which blocks proteins from binding to vitamin A was 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy in mice with no side effects. Mice which were given the oral drug for four weeks saw a steep fall in sperm counts, rendering them sterile. Sperm counts bounced back up four to six weeks after stopping the medication. Researchers said they could start human trials as early as the third quarter of this year.

Earlier attempts at male birth control pills have gone nowhere as they mostly relied on blocking testosterone, which can cause depression, weight gain and lower libido. In February 2021, scientists in China reported promising results in mice and non-human primates using triptonide, a compound found in a traditional Chinese herb, which cause deformed sperm and lower sperm motility, but this has not yet been commercialized either.

For more on this topic, see trend #82 Male Fertility Start-ups in The Future 100: 2022.

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