Low-cost fertility clinic in Calgary could be Canadian first

If Effortless IVF raises enough money to set up shop in Calgary this fall, women struggling to get pregnant may have a cheaper "plastic egg" option for fertility treatments.

INVOcell 'plastic egg' half the price of traditional IVF, but not without critics

The Calgary clinic will be called Effortless IVF and offers a cheaper alternative to traditional IVF through vaginal incubation. (Radio-Canada)

Originally published on May 12.

If a budget baby-making clinic gets the funding it needs to set up shop in Calgary this fall, women struggling to get pregnant may have a cheaper option for fertility treatments.

Traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF) can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 per cycle. 

The new Calgary clinic — Effortless IVF Canada — promises "IVF for half the cost" or $6,500 per cycle.

The first 100 patients will get an even better deal: $4,000 for their first treatment.

The medical startup launched the promotion and crowdfunding campaign on Thursday. If it raises enough capital, Canada's first low-cost IVF fertility clinic could open in Calgary as early as October.

Ex-MLA heads clinic

Albertans may recognize the president of the private clinic — Dr. Lyle Oberg, a former PC cabinet minister. 

Dr. Lyle Oberg is a former Alberta PC cabinet minister and the president of Effortless IVF Canada. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

He's working with the company's CEO, Jason Broome, to open clinics across Canada that will offer just one type of fertility treatment.

"You don't need an expensive lab, you do less testing, you use less hormones to stimulate the body, you use less ultrasounds," Oberg told the Calgary Eyeopener

"It's a much more natural process — which all leads to being able to be cheaper, as well, and being more cost-effective for people."

'Plastic egg'

The procedure uses a "plastic egg" called INVOcell, which is about the size of a champagne cork, Oberg says.

Sperm and eggs are placed in the egg, and the device is inserted inside a woman's vagina.

"The huge advantage to this is you're truly simulating the woman's natural environment. You're a couple of centimetres away from the uterus where conception normally takes place," said Oberg.

"Same temperature, same carbon dioxide concentration — all of these great things that lead to a good fertilization."

After five days, INVOcell is removed and the best embryos are transferred back to the uterus.

The plastic egg is put inside a woman's body and, theoretically, the sperm and egg fertilize there. It's then removed and the best embryos are implanted in the uterus. (Effortless IVF/YouTube )

Success rate 'about the same'

While INVOcell has been approved by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, like all new treatments, there is limited data on how well it works. 

"At the moment, our success rate is about the same as IVF," said Oberg, noting the procedure has been around for about a year. 

"As we evolve, as we do more cycles, we'll refine the technique and hopefully we'll get our number up even higher."

The figure matches the latest clinical trial of the device, published in February in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, which found that women who used INVOcell were just as likely to have a live birth as women who had traditional IVF treatment. 

In vitro fertilization involves fertilizing an egg with a sperm outside of the body. The Effortless IVF method achieves fertilization through vaginal incubation. (Dr. Thomas Hannam)

However, as a Calgary fertility doctor points out — that trial had 40 participants and only half of them got the plastic egg.

"We always would support reproductive choice and access in terms of different options for patients," said Dr. Joseph O'Keane with the Regional Fertility Program in Calgary. "But this is a very new, potential treatment." 

Cheaper IVF not 'best' answer

Right now Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba are the only Canadian provinces that provide some public funding for IVF.

In October, Ontario announced that it would help cover the cost for roughly 5,000 families trying to conceive a child. Manitoba offers a tax credit for fertility treatments of up to $8,000 a year. Quebec used to pay the full cost of IVF, but reduced its funding last fall.

"So the more important question, in many ways, is why is our government in this province not funding patients for access to IVF rather than a cheaper IVF — which may or may not be helpful?" said Dr. O'Keane.

Meanwhile, Generations of Hope — a Calgary charity that provides grants to families who cannot afford traditional IVF — has concerns about a clinic that markets itself as low-cost.

"I worry that patients ... may try this because it is cheaper, and maybe not get the best treatment for them," said president Terri Abraham. "And then they've wasted still half the money towards a treatment."

According to the Effortless IVF website, INVOcell is not for everyone. There is a section that details who may or may not be a good candidate.

Oberg said the INVOcell method is already being used in clinics in Dallas, Washington and Phoenix — but Calgary could be the first dedicated site in Canada to offer this type of fertility treatment.

Former Alberta cabinet minister Dr. Lyle Oberg joins us to discuss plans to open up a low-cost fertility clinic in Calgary.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener