Men…get your sperm tested!
By Chris Burritt
Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) — Walgreen Co. and CVS Caremark Corp.,
the biggest U.S. drugstore chains, are betting they can generate
sales by answering a question few men want to ask: whether or
not they’re firing blanks.
In April, Walgreen’s 7,800 U.S. stores plan to start
selling a fertility test that determines if a man is producing
enough sperm to get a woman pregnant. Walgreen and CVS have
already started selling SpermCheck Fertility online.
The blue-and-gold box, which features a smiling couple
holding a newborn, will join more than two dozen varieties of
female fertility tests in Walgreen stores. SpermCheck’s owner
and distributor, closely held ContraVac Inc., is banking on
women dropping an extra $40 for the test when they buy ovulation
and pregnancy kits for themselves.
“In our society, the woman carries the burden of trying to
determine the issues surrounding infertility,” said Ray Lopez,
ContraVac’s chief executive officer. “Men don’t say, ‘Let me go
to the urologist and give a semen sample.’”
That reluctance has created a $440 million-a-year market
for male fertility tests in the U.S., Lopez says.
Every year, about 7.3 million women in the U.S. have
trouble with pregnancies, according to the Atlanta-based Centers
for Disease Control. Many women, assuming they are to blame,
visit gynecologists. They are “poked and prodded” and sent
home while few husbands want to consider that they’re possibly
at fault, according to Barbara Collura, executive director of
Resolve: the National Infertility Association in McLean,
SpermCheck joins “dozens of tests” Deerfield, Illinois-
based Walgreen sells to consumers “seeking less expensive and
more convenient alternatives to various forms of health
testing,” Jim Cohn, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail. It
helps “customers take a proactive role in their health and
wellness,” said Carolyn Castel, a spokeswoman for CVS, based in
Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
Revenue at Walgreen, hurt by the loss of a contract with
employee prescriptions manager Express Scripts Inc., will be
little changed at $72.3 billion in the fiscal year through
August, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. CVS will
increase sales by 11 percent to $119.5 billion this year,
according to analysts.
A private-equity investor in Greensboro, North Carolina,
Lopez joined ContraVac as a director in 2004 when he and other
investors took a stake in the biotech startup. The majority
owner is John Herr, the test’s inventor and director of the
University of Virginia’s Center for Research in Contraceptive
and Reproductive Health in Charlottesville. SpermCheck received
Food and Drug Administration approval in 2010, almost 30 years
after Herr, 63, and university colleagues started the research.
The test requires the man to combine his semen with a
solution in a bottle, then place drops of the mixture on a test
strip. A reddish line indicates the sperm count is normal — 20
million or more per milliliter of semen — while a negative
result shows no color. Any reading below normal means men
“should consult a physician about a complete fertility
evaluation,” according to the test’s instructions.
“There is nothing like it on the shelf,” said Maeve
Egner, president of Princeton, New Jersey-based Fusion
Marketing, hired by Lopez to help market SpermCheck. “It’s
plugging a gap.”
It’s not necessary for men to test sperm counts at home if
they’re willing to visit a doctor for a complete semen analysis,
according to Larry Lipshultz, a Houston urologist and chief of
the Division of Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Baylor
College of Medicine.
Determining the concentration of sperm in semen is one
consideration in assessing male fertility, Lipshultz said.
Others are the volume and sperm’s ability to swim, he said.
“If the sperm count is OK but the motility, how well
they’re moving, is bad, those sperm aren’t going to fertilize
well,” Lipshultz said by telephone.
He says women struggling to get pregnant should see
gynecologists and their male partners should visit urologists
for a semen analysis, which costs $100 at his practice.
Walgreen and CVS “recognized the need for the product and
that it would bring new revenues to their stores,” said Lopez,
who met with buyers from the two retailers at a family planning
trade show in Orlando in August.
SpermCheck, though, may not become a blockbuster product,
according to Gene Detroyer, a consultant to startup companies
and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at the European
School of Economics in New York. “Unlike pregnancy and
ovulation tests that women try once a month, men may use it
once,” Detroyer said.
Only two in 10 men are willing to accompany their female
partners on trips to gynecologists when they’re having trouble
with pregnancies, Herr said.
“Men have a greater tendency to believe in their
invincibility,” the scientist said. “When it comes to
reproduction, they are more concerned about the delivery vehicle
than they are about what’s delivered.”
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–Editors: Robin Ajello, Rick Schine
To contact the reporter on this story:
Chris Burritt in Greensboro at +1-336-808-1348 or
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Robin Ajello at +1-212-617-7261 or