Company hopes to bridge gap between natural intercourse and costly in-vitro fertilization

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Steve Bollinger wants to take fertility treatments out of the doctor's office and into the home.

"Fertility is pretty much a private sport," he said.

It's also become a "rich person's sport," he said, with in-vitro fertilization treatments adding up to tens of thousands of dollars.

The chief executive and founder of Intimate Bridge 2 Conception is months from taking to market the Focus Touch, an $80 over-the-counter device that wants to bridge the gap between natural intercourse and in-vitro fertilization. The Focus Touch was built over the past year to allow do-it-yourself intracervical insemination, a process that places semen right near the cervix to increase the chance of a pregnancy.

Mr. Bollinger, an executive-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, has raised $500,000 in investments from the Greenhouse and local incubator Innovation Works. He expects to close on a second round of funding worth $1.5 million in March.

The investor interest could be driven by the money to be made in helping women get pregnant: While about 6 million babies are born every year, there are 7.3 million people who have difficulty conceiving, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Focus Touch is a long, thin tube that comes in only lilac (because blue plus pink make purple). Each kit can be used once.

Mr. Bollinger has built the Focus Touch to be as simple as using a condom or tampon.

Here's how it works:

A small cap sits at the tip of a specially designed condom. During intercourse, the cap collects the semen and then is removed and fitted onto the end of the Focus Touch. The tube is then inserted into the vaginal tract until it rests against the cervix, placing the semen in close proximity to the woman's cervical entrance. The cap can stay inside the woman's body for three to five hours before being pulled out by a string, much like a tampon.

And since sperm can live outside the body for up to seven days, the filled cap can be stored in a refrigerator to be timed with a woman's 72-hour ovulation cycle.

IB2C incorporated in 2009, but Mr. Bollinger has kicked around the idea for the Focus Touch for about 16 years -- not so coincidentally, the age of his oldest son.

Mr. Bollinger and his wife were visiting a fertility clinic when he overheard women complaining about the cold process of fertility treatments.

The boom in communities dedicated to fertility treatments -- there's even a magazine called Conceive -- and the high number of babies born through in-vitro fertilization (4 million since 1978) convinced him this was the time to finally create his device.

Intracervical insemination has lost some popularity to other treatments like intrauterine insemination (which reduces the risk of sexually transmitted diseases) or in-vitro fertilization (which has a higher success rate but costs much more).

Intracervical insemination has a success rate of 10 to 15 percent. It's not as high as in-vitro's 15 to 25 percent odds, but Mr. Bollinger sees the Focus Touch as a "first try" before heading into the costly process, which is often not covered by health insurance. Pennsylvania is one of 14 states in the country where insurers will partially reimburse fertility treatments.

The Focus Touch will be submitted for FDA approval in the first half of this year, and Mr. Bollinger plans to sell the device online by the end of the year. His business plan then moves the device into doctors' offices and, eventually, drugstores.

The widened net of coverage under President Barack Obama's health care legislation will encourage doctors to recommend the Focus Touch -- and maybe sell it in their offices -- before the more costly procedures, said Michael Tovian, who sits on the IB2C board of directors. He worked for Walgreen's drugstores for 27 years, part of that time as vice president of managed care sales and contracting.

"There's no way you'd see this on a drugstore shelf 10 years ago," he said. In the old days, you had to ask the pharmacist for a condom; now you have a whole selection, he said.

"The timing is positioned" for the Focus Touch, he said. "You even see KY jelly commercials on TV."

IB2C's online-first approach hopes to cater to a Web-savvy generation that heads online to self-diagnose through services like WebMD. It also follows the model taken with recent products like Zestra, a female sexual enhancement cream, or Align, a Proctor & Gamble digestive aid, that began launches with online-only sales.

The advertising will be online-driven as well, with ad space purchased to run alongside Google search results for queries like "low sperm count."

The South Side-based operation is a bit of a homecoming for Mr. Bollinger.

After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the Delmont native earned a Bronze Star in the Gulf War and returned home to start a career in the medical devices business. As a turnaround CEO and company founder, he worked with devices for about every part of the body but the brain.

The many years in the medical devices field made him a lot of friends, who he's now called on to design and consult on the Focus Touch.

The Focus Touch is being evaluated by focus groups, and Mr. Bollinger plans to hire at least eight employees by the end of the year in marketing, packaging and regulatory affairs.

But women trying to get pregnant aren't the only market he sees.

He thinks it'd make a great present to get from your mother-in-law.

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.

Steve Bollinger wants to take fertility treatments out of the doctor's office and into the home.

"Fertility is pretty much a private sport," he said.

It's also become a "rich person's sport," he said, with in-vitro fertilization treatments adding up to tens of thousands of dollars.

The chief executive and founder of Intimate Bridge 2 Conception is months from taking to market the Focus Touch, an $80 over-the-counter device that wants to bridge the gap between natural intercourse and in-vitro fertilization. The Focus Touch was built over the past year to allow do-it-yourself intracervical insemination, a process that places semen right near the cervix to increase the chance of a pregnancy.

Mr. Bollinger, an executive-in-residence with the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, has raised $500,000 in investments from the Greenhouse and local incubator Innovation Works. He expects to close on a second round of funding worth $1.5 million in March.

The investor interest could be driven by the money to be made in helping women get pregnant: While about 6 million babies are born every year, there are 7.3 million people who have difficulty conceiving, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Focus Touch is a long, thin tube that comes in only lilac (because blue plus pink make purple). Each kit can be used once. Mr. Bollinger has built the Focus Touch to be as simple as using a condom or tampon.

Here's how it works: A small cap sits at the tip of a specially designed condom. During intercourse, the cap collects the semen and then is removed and fitted onto the end of the Focus Touch. The tube is then inserted into the vaginal tract until it rests against the cervix, placing the semen in close proximity to the woman's cervical entrance. The cap can stay inside the woman's body for three to five hours before being pulled out by a string, much like a tampon.

And since sperm can live outside the body for up to seven days, the filled cap can be stored in a refrigerator to be timed with a woman's 72-hour ovulation cycle.

IB2C incorporated in 2009, but Mr. Bollinger has kicked around the idea for the Focus Touch for about 16 years -- not so coincidentally, the age of his oldest son.

Mr. Bollinger and his wife were visiting a fertility clinic when he overheard women complaining about the cold process of fertility treatments.

The boom in communities dedicated to fertility treatments -- there's even a magazine called Conceive -- and the high number of babies born through in-vitro fertilization (4 million since 1978) convinced him this was the time to finally create his device.

Intracervical insemination has lost some popularity to other treatments like intrauterine insemination (which reduces the risk of sexually transmitted diseases) or in-vitro fertilization (which has a higher success rate but costs much more).

Intracervical insemination has a success rate of 10 to 15 percent. It's not as high as in-vitro's 15 to 25 percent odds, but Mr. Bollinger sees the Focus Touch as a "first try" before heading into the costly process, which is often not covered by health insurance. Pennsylvania is one of 14 states in the country where insurers will partially reimburse fertility treatments.

The Focus Touch will be submitted for FDA approval in the first half of this year, and Mr. Bollinger plans to sell the device online by the end of the year. His business plan then moves the device into doctors' offices and, eventually, drugstores.

The widened net of coverage under President Barack Obama's health care legislation will encourage doctors to recommend the Focus Touch -- and maybe sell it in their offices -- before the more costly procedures, said Michael Tovian, who sits on the IB2C board of directors. He worked for Walgreen's drugstores for 27 years, part of that time as vice president of managed care sales and contracting.

"There's no way you'd see this on a drugstore shelf 10 years ago," he said. In the old days, you had to ask the pharmacist for a condom; now you have a whole selection, he said.

"The timing is positioned" for the Focus Touch, he said. "You even see KY jelly commercials on TV."

IB2C's online-first approach hopes to cater to a Web-savvy generation that heads online to self-diagnose through services like WebMD. It also follows the model taken with recent products such as Zestra, a female sexual enhancement cream, that began launches with online-only sales.

The advertising will be online-driven as well, with ad space purchased to run alongside Google search results for queries like "low sperm count."

The South Side-based operation is a bit of a homecoming for Mr. Bollinger. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the Delmont native earned a Bronze Star in the Gulf War and returned home to start a career in the medical devices business. As a turnaround CEO and company founder, he worked with devices for about every part of the body but the brain.

The many years in the medical devices field made him a lot of friends, who he's now called on to design and consult on the Focus Touch. The Focus Touch is being evaluated by focus groups, and Mr. Bollinger plans to hire at least eight employees by the end of the year in marketing, packaging and regulatory affairs.

But women trying to get pregnant aren't the only market he sees. He thinks it'd make a great present to get from your mother-in-law.


Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com ; 412-263-1455. First Published February 4, 2011 5:00 AM


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