“Two scientists on a mission to do better”
Can you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your current role?
My name is Amy Beckley, I’m the founder and inventor of the Proov test. I have a PhD in Pharmacology and invented Proov after my personal battle with infertility and recurrent miscarriage.
You’re the CEO and founder of MFB Fertility, can you tell us more about MFB Fertility and Proov?
I struggled with pregnancy loss and infertility for years, and I was diagnosed with “unexplained infertility.” Which telling that to a scientist, is a big slap in the face! That’s basically saying that they know something is wrong with you they just don’t know what it is.
If you have unexplained infertility, the only treatment is IVF. So, after a couple of cycles of IVF I had my son, who is now 11. After that, I thought, “I’m going to figure out what’s wrong with me!” To do this, I went back to all my charting, my ovulation tests, and all my symptoms, and I had conversations with my doctor about what could possibly be going on. It turned out that I had a hormone imbalance and that basically I wasn’t making enough progesterone after ovulation. Progesterone’s role is to prepare the uterus for implantation. So, I was either not implanting or not receiving, because my uterine environment was not conducive for implantation and a healthy pregnancy. I conceived my daughter naturally and after ovulation – I just added a progesterone supplement to supplement my body with the hormone that it wasn’t creating.
After that experience I realised I didn’t need IVF, I just needed a really simple prescription that is widely available! So, we developed Proov which is a way to understand if you have insufficient progesterone in your system. We call it “successful ovulation” as opposed to just ovulation. What that means, is “ovulation” means producing an egg; successful ovulation means you produce an egg and have a healthy uterine environment because it saw enough of this hormone for long enough.
We have a patented method that measures the implantation window, and we measure a hormone called Pregnanediol Glucuronide, or PdG. This is a simple urine test you take 7 to 10 days after peak fertility. This will tell you positive or negative results, and if they are positive for that four-day window, you had enough of this hormone for long to have the maximum chance of conception.
What challenges have you faced so far?
Women understanding the concept. It’s something that we haven’t talked about or know. If you go to the doctor, they will ask how regular your cycles are or how often they are, and you might say that they are regular, every 28 days which would automatically mean that you were ovulating fine and that would essentially just “check a box.”
We are stepping away from all the solutions that are out there of just finding the fertile window, into looking at the situation that you had intercourse in the “fertile window” but you’re still not conceiving? So, identifying hormone imbalances that can make the intercourse more effective. This is a new concept, and we still have to talk about it in the context of ovulation, so this will take a lot of education. It takes a lot of education, as doctors can see ovulation tests as proof of ovulation, but this just tells you if an egg might be released or not, it doesn’t tell you if the uterus is ready for implantation. So really educating and empowering that knowledge has been the most challenging.
I can see one of your tag lines is ‘Made for women, by women’ which is great, how much can women’s lives be improved by inventions and products like yours?
There are a lot of companies out there that feel that innovation is putting the same thing in a prettier box. We don’t want to do that. We want to be truly innovative and truly ground breaking with what we do, which is very hard! Anytime that you have to teach the market about a new product or idea, it is very difficult to get that message across.
Our goal is to not answer the same question in a unique way, but to answer a new question and provide new answers and insight to move women forward. That’s the mission behind the company, to bring about change and think of a new way to move women forward. And a new way to think about how we think about pregnancy loss and infertility.
How is Proov reaching customers at the moment?
We are very direct to consumer. Education and empowerment are our pillars. We spend a lot of time writing blogs and educational content around what do the hormones do, what do they mean, what do you need, what can you talk to your doctor about? There are a lot of misconceptions out there, and it is very lonely to be going through infertility. You don’t want to talk to your best friend or your mum or sometimes even your husband. You often just want to get the information, which means that you would often go to Google and search these questions. So, we want to be the source of truth to answer those questions.
We have a lot of content and blogs which specifically address the concerns and help to educate people. With this, we also empower them to have better conversations with their doctor. We never advocate going around a doctor, we advocate that you have this information in your power, and you are armed to have that better conversation with doctor to help move you forward. It’s about access to information and testing, that women have never had access to.
How would you like to see women’s healthcare evolving over the next few years?
There is a lot of money in research in IVF itself, so better ways to store eggs or better ways to fertilise, or better way to track embryos, all these innovations in the IVF space – because IVF is a big expensive business. It takes a lot of well-trained doctors to do. It’s also very inaccessible to a lot of women. Some women might have high BMI and don’t qualify, or have “too many children already”, or its just to long a wait for some women. So, I would love to see more research done outside of IVF. The problem is IVF is such a big business, and when you’re talking about new developments, and new innovations it’s very expensive to do, develop and educate.
Companies like ours need capital. We need venture firms to believe in what we’re doing and to fund the project. Right now, they are funding all the IVF innovations which is great, but don’t forget about the people who can’t afford it or don’t have access to it. I would like to see it more equalised and for people to understand ways to treat infertility without IVF. That’s where I would love to see the field go.
What advice would you have for women at the beginning of their journey setting up a company?
Follow your heart. Follow your gut and your intuition. We started this company with an idea, a $50 logo, and a crowdfunding campaign. My position was “This is my idea, this is what I want to do”; we didn’t have investors or rich uncles! We were just two scientists on a mission to do better. And we thought if people want this and it’s a good idea and we’re here, it will happen. From the crowdfunding campaign we got $50,000, I made a first prototype, sold those, and had money to buy a second lot and it just kept going. People started noticing us, then after bootstrapping for a long time we got exposure with the state who gave us a grant which then led into investor funding.
I think that if you do good and you are truly there to help and your product fits a need in the market, follow your passion and follow your heart and it will lead you to the right way. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s not a good product? Maybe you’re thinking about it wrong? Also, never go at it alone, always find help. If I didn’t have my cofounder, Proov would not be what it is today. Don’t worry about giving up control, it’s better to be in it with somebody else, so that you can have that open dialogue, and go back and forth with ideas.
Finally, what’s next for Proov? What developments would you like to see over the next few years?
We have been in this for a while, and we have seen a lot of women come through. We take a lot of stock in our consumers and talk to them a lot. I personally get on interviews and talk to then, asking them about their struggles, what they are doing and what they would like to see. What they want, is a comprehensive system to understand what is going on, not only to understand it, but to fix it.
In the past, if a woman has had problems of ovulating, we have said go to see your doctor, which is great, however we want to look more into what women can be doing to support that. There are exercises, positive mindset exercises, these can actually boost hormones and get you back in balance! There are also over the counter medicines that you are able to take that can promote that balance. So, it’s really about taking a holistic approach about who are you, what are your goals?
It’s also about empowering women to not think of their menstrual cycle as negative but to empower them to open up to thinking about its potential and its ability to provide life. We want to step away from infertility as the only thing that we look at. We want to go into how do we age gracefully? How do we get through peri menopause? How do we help 20 year olds and early teens with heavy periods, without having to go on hormonal birth control which might impact their fertility power later in life. It’s about really unlocking the true power of a woman in her menstrual cycle for good.
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