Natural Cycles, the first app to be CE-certified as a contraceptive in Europe, raised $30 million in a round led by EQT Ventures. Existing investors Sunstone, E-ventures, and Bonnier Growth Media also participated, bringing the company’s total funding to around $38 million.
“Our algorithm is developed and optimized for use in contraception and it returns a red or a green day to the user, so the user only has to know that if it’s a red day she needs to use protection and if it’s a green day there’s no risk of pregnancy,” Dr. Elina Berglund, CTO and cofounder of Natural Cycles, told MobiHealthNews. “With many other fertility trackers, if you want to use it for contraception you have to make that analysis yourself and many studies have shown that that’s not very reliable or effective.”
Berglund, who founded the company with her husband, CEO Dr. Raoul Scherwitzl, is a nuclear physicist who worked on the team at CERN that won the Nobel Prize for finding the Higgs Boson particle in 2013. The company also announced a handful of new hires, including several of Berglund’s team members at CERN as well as researchers in the medical field.
“I guess the connection [between CERN and Natural Cycles] is it’s a lot about understanding data and statistics,” Berglund said. “I would not have been able to develop the algorithm behind Natural Cycles if I hadn’t spent so many years at CERN looking for the Higgs particle, etc, because that’s really big data at CERN. I always laugh a little bit when startups say that they’re dealing with big data because CERN is really big data. Huge amounts of data. You have to find a tiny, tiny signal among a lot of collision noise, so the skill of, in an automated, programmatic way, analyzing data, extracting a small signal and understanding if that is really a signal and not a statistical fluctuation is very useful in other fields — for instance women’s reproductive health.”
Natural Cycles is sold as a yearly subscription, which includes the app and a basal thermometer.
“The main algorithm, what it does is analyze women’s body temperature and it tries to find the signal of ovulation amid a lot of other noise — how did you sleep, did you have a few glasses of wine yesterday?” Berglund said. “Everything effects temperature, then it’s important to be able to extract what is a temperature shift due to ovulation and what is just noise.”
Right now, the user must manually enter their temperature into the app, as well as timing information about their period and, optionally, results of a luteinizing hormone urine test. One improvement the company might add in the future is a move to a connected thermometer that could automatically upload data.
Natural Cycles also plans to use the funding to expand internationally. Currently the app is sold in the US as well as in Europe, but while the company can market it as a contraceptive in Europe, it must wait for FDA clearance to make those claims in the US.
Currently, the app can be used by women looking to avoid pregnancy, but it can also be used in other modes for those who are trying to get pregnant and by women who already are pregnant and want to monitor their pregnancy.
“We want to focus on acquiring users in contraception and then we want to keep the users for a very long time by following whatever phase she’s on in her fertile life,” Berglund said. “So if she then changes to wanting to get pregnant she can still use Natural Cycles for that.”
The company has even more planned. Using the same metrics the app is already collecting, Berglund says she hopes to be able to detect and warn users about early signs of polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and even infertility.
“Through giving women valuable information and insights about her own body, she can then take action,” she said. “Whether it’s when to use protection because she’s fertile, or when to have intercourse because she wants to get pregnant, or if there’s a health issue, we want to be there to be the hub for women’s health.”