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Fertility firm goes global with new technology

Lewis Fertility Testing is going global, with the deployment of innovative technology developed in Queen’s University Belfast. With ready markets already identified in the US, China and India, Sheena Lewis, the company’s founder, sees no reason why Irish firms shouldn’t manage to rack up global sales from home soil.

‘‘We want to keep the skills here and base ourselves in Northern Ireland, but we are dealing in a global market,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘We were mentioned in an Economist magazine article looking at Northern Ireland after the Troubles. As a result of that, we are in advanced negotiations with customers in China, the US and India. We want to have them as channel partners, so we maintain the business here.’’

Commercial viability

A professor of reproductive medicine at Queen’s University, Lewis established her own company when her research became commercially viable.

‘‘I have been leading a research group in male fertility at Queens for the last 20 years,’’ she said. ‘‘We have been focusing on novel bio-markers, which can be used as a diagnostic tool for male fertility, and also to predict how successful assisted reproductive technology (ART), which includes IVF or its more advanced form, intracytoplasmic sperm injection [ICSI], is likely to be for couples.’’

From this research, Lewis developed SpermComet, unique and peer-reviewed DNA test technology that provides accurate male fertility information unavailable through conventional semen analysis.

‘‘It got that name as we can see a train of damaged DNA in the sperm, similar to acelestial comet in the sky,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘Last year, we published articles in the respected journals Human Reproduction and Fertility and Sterility, which established our findings as they had been reviewed internationally.’’

The fact the company provides a testing service rather than a product makes it easier to sell anywhere in the world, according to Lewis.

‘‘The customer sends a frozen semen sample to the company and we can test it and have the results back to them within seven days. We can courier samples from here to anywhere in the world, it is not a problem,’’ she said.

Finding customers

Lewis said she was learning all the time how to find new customers.

‘‘We deal with clinics in different countries, and they send us patients,’’ she said. ‘‘We are also marketing through telling couples this test is available via our website and through a lob by group called Infertility Network UK. We will be talking to people at the Fertility Show in London on November 4 and 5.’’

Lewis said that the potential market for the SpermComet service was a large one. ‘‘One in six couples experiences infertility during child-bearing years. There are a million cycles of fertility treatment carried out each year: 500,000 in Europe, 50,000 in Britain and 5,000 in the Republic of Ireland.Those figures are growing in Europe by 5 per cent per year,’’ she said.

Lewis is seeking external investment to take the next step.

‘‘We want to further optimise the test and we have an other couple of tests in the pipeline,’’ she said. ‘‘We are very interested in getting in- vestment so we could move faster on that. We want to make money, but also to help these couples. We say we can save people time, money and heartache.’’