Expanding the Reach of Reproductive Genetics
Episode

Saman Askari, Co-founder, and CEO at Mitera Genetics

Expanding the Reach of Reproductive Genetics

There’s a lot that one can learn about themselves and their future children thanks to the advancements in genetics.

 

In this episode, Saman Askari, Co-founder, and CEO at Mitera Genetics talks about genetic testing technologies in the reproductive healthcare space. He explains how Mitera Genetics offers education on genetic testing. If a patient chooses to get an Expanded Carrier Screening or a Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing, Mitera enables them to do it at home. This way, they seek to provide more knowledge and accessibility to genetic testing in a medically responsible manner as it counts on physicians and counselors that review every test and connect it back to patients’ existing care systems. Saman talks about the challenges Mitera faced and conquered and also shares details on how to access their services.

 

Tune in to this episode to learn how Mitera is helping patients and families take control of their reproductive health in a medically responsible manner!

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Expanding the Reach of Reproductive Genetics

About Saman Askari:

Saman is the Co-Founder & CEO of Mitera, an at-home testing company within the reproductive health space. He’s also a thought leader in telehealth and genetic testing.

Inspired by personal challenges and a vision to provide accessible, risk-appropriate reproductive care for families, he co-founded Mitera in 2020. Before that, Saman worked in consulting and ran operations at a healthcare organization, leading it through a significant growth phase. He is an operations expert who has overseen the implementation of various automation, digitization, and digital marketing initiatives, helping organizations scale effectively. His work and influence have led to highly improved delivery of care and increased access to subspecialty care.

His goal at Mitera is to help demystify the genetic testing landscape and provide greater access to advanced genetics technologies for patients looking to grow their families. By offering at-home, patient-initiated testing such as non-invasive prenatal tests (NIPT) and expanded carrier screening in a medially responsible manner, he believes Mitera can help women and families gain autonomy and become more informed along their reproductive journeys, ultimately improving overall outcomes.

Saman has an MBA from Northeastern University and an M.Eng. from MIT-Zaragoza, which is part of MIT’s Global SCALE Network.

 

OR_Saman Askari: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

OR_Saman Askari: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Saul Marquez:
Hey everybody, Saul Marquez here, and welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket, appreciate you tuning back in. Today, I am privileged to spend some time with Saman Askari. He’s the co-founder and CEO at Mitera. He’s just an incredible person and he’s focused on at-home testing company within the reproductive healthcare space. He’s also a thought leader in telehealth and genetic testing. He was inspired by personal challenge and a vision to provide accessible risk-appropriate reproductive care for families, and he co-founded Mitera in 2020. Prior to that, Saman worked in consulting and ran the operations at a healthcare organization, leading it through a significant growth phase. He’s really an operations expert who’s overseeing the implementation of various automation, digitization, and digital marketing initiatives, helping organizations scale effectively. His work and his influence have led to highly improved delivery of care and increased access to subspecialty care. His goal at Mitera is to help demystify the genetic testing landscape and provide greater access to advanced genetics technologies for patients looking to grow their families. I mean, I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty amazing. The way that they’re doing it, they’re offering at-home patient-initiated testing, such as non-invasive prenatal testing, NIPT, you guys have probably heard a couple of episodes we’ve done on that, and expanded carrier screening in medially responsible manner. He’s doing some amazing things for women and families to gain an autonomy and I’m excited to have him here to talk about it. So, Saman, appreciate you joining us.

Saman Askari:
Thanks for having me on. I appreciate your time Saul, thanks so much.

Saul Marquez:
Absolutely Saman, and so there’s so much cool work happening in healthcare. A lot of it is pointing towards individuals and sort of the NF1 type of care and it feels like that’s where you and your company are taking this type of opportunity for families and reproductive health. Before we dive into the model that you guys are specializing in, Saman, tell me a little bit about you. What inspires your work in healthcare?

Saman Askari:
Yeah, absolutely. So what really inspires my work in healthcare is some of the personal challenges that I’ve been through, trying to start a family and trying to navigate the world of reproductive genetics, and finding out that there isn’t a lot of information around what you can find out, what kind of tests are out there, what the tests tell you, what the pros, cons, limitations are, and so on and so forth. The amazing thing is that there has been a lot of advancement in reproductive health specifically and genetic testing and the world of genomics in general. In the past 10 or 15 years, the challenge has been that this sort of advancement has outpaced the knowledge base of providers out there. So there are a lot of people that, out there, that can take advantage of this technology, but certainly but just don’t have the access that they need to the expertise that would really guide them through that landscape. And that’s how my co-founder and I came up with the idea around Mitera to be able to give patients a place where they can get educated on the test, understand what these tests are, and then if they decide to do it, they can do it from the comfort of their home. So creating autonomy for them and also privacy at the same time and really, at the end of the day, informing them about their pregnancies, about their future children, and allowing them to minimize risks that come along pregnancy, inevitably.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, yeah. No, I appreciate that. There’s, I mean, I’ve got a lot of friends too, Saman, that that have gone through the challenges and have spent a lot of time, have invested significant money in trying to navigate these waters, and oftentimes it’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what works. And so it’s exciting to hear what you and your team are up to. So talk to us specifically about how the organization is adding value to these people, to the ecosystem.

Saman Askari:
Yeah, absolutely. So Mitera is set up as a telehealth company that’s licensed to provide medical and genetic counseling services in all 50 states. And what that gives us is the ability to be able to administer various kinds of tests within the reproductive health space, because we have that specific expertise in-house to everyone in the country, so we can increase accessibility out there and provide people knowledge that they need, do these tests responsibly and do it in a way where it doesn’t really take them out of their current care structures. We provide the medical expertise and oversight, but we also connect back up with their providing, with their existing providers and provide them with the follow-up reports. And that’s how we make sure that not only do we educate people, inform them, but we also complement the care that they’re currently receiving.

Saul Marquez:
That’s great. And so you guys are telemedicine, you’re coaching services, you’re helping the overall operations, ultimately opening up this tool of genetic testing to people that otherwise, maybe it would be more difficult to receive?

Saman Askari:
That’s correct. Only about a third of pregnant women, pregnant individuals across the country, receive tests such as non-invasive prenatal tests or NIPT, and a lot fewer people actually do expanded carrier screening. So those are the two tests that we currently offer and our NIPT is actually the first at-home NIPT out there. And so there’s a lot of information that comes along with that. As the name implies, non-invasive prenatal test is a simple blood test that can tell you a lot of things about your fetus as early as ten weeks of pregnancy. And it can screen for various genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome with very high level of sensitivity, and it can also tell you whether your fetus is at risk for other conditions, such as Trisomy 13, Trisomy 18, tells you the sex of the baby, and so on. And what this does is that it prevents the need to do more invasive procedures, such as, to a certain extent, such as amniocentesis or chorionic villous sampling. And what that does and in the greater scheme of things is that it prevents a lot of costly sort of procedures as well as potential adverse outcomes that may come down the line and it limits the more invasive procedures to people that actually need it. So for example, if you test positive on an NIPT for high risk, being high risk for Down’s syndrome, there’s a 95% chance that positive is an actual positive. So then you can go and confirm that result doing an amniocentesis or a CVS. So, but historically speaking, anybody over 35 had to do one of these invasive procedures to make sure that they are at low risk, and what these tests do is eliminate the need to do that for everybody over 35.

Saul Marquez:
Awesome. Yeah, that’s interesting, and there’s this element of enabling providers, right? Because there’s a whole slew of unknowns that come with just genetic testing, right? And a lot of providers aren’t trained on this. So there’s an opportunity to help support them in this. Is that what makes you guys different? Or what would you say is the thing that makes you guys different in the marketplace?

Saman Askari:
Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, the advancement in technology that we’re talking about, genetics technology in general, has outpaced the knowledge base providers out there. So what our services do is actually complement a lot of the work that OB-GYNs or other providers out there do by allowing them to tap into the expertise that we have in-house and having their patients be educated around what these tests are. So a lot of times patients get these tests without really understanding that these are screening modalities and not necessarily agnostic tests. So an NIPT, for example, doesn’t give you a definitive yes or no answer, but it tells you the likelihood of your baby having certain genetic conditions. And it is very accurate in the sense that, for example, NIPT is simply the most accurate screening modality out there for Down’s syndrome. Our test has a sensitivity of 99.7% for Down’s Syndrome, positive predictive value of 95%. But there’s still room for people to be educated to understand what those results mean. And what we bring to the table is not only that knowledge base but also the ability for patients to be handheld throughout the entire process, have someone sit down with them afterwards, explain their results virtually over a video consult, And on top of that, they get to do all of this at home. So we have phlebotomists show up at the home of our patients to draw their blood. Our expanded carrier screening kit is a saliva kit, so it’s self-administered and we try to make it as convenient as possible, as accessible as possible. And one of the other things that is unique to us is the fact that patients themselves can initiate getting these tests. So right now, the way you would normally get these tests is you would go through your own provider, but with Mitera, you can actually go to our website and order the test yourself. Now, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a doctor overseeing it. We have the doctors. Mitera, that was co-founded by a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, we have genetic counselors. Every single requisition form gets reviewed by a physician. The order gets put through, so on and so forth, and then, so the entire process is overseen and is a medically responsible process.

Saul Marquez:
Great. Thank you for that. That’s a clear distinction. How do people access what you offer? Is this a B2C play or are you guys B2B as well?

Saman Askari:
That’s a very good question. So we have a couple of different approaches. Our main approach is to be B2C product, right? Because it’s patient-initiated, it’s self-initiated. Patients can go online and do this themselves. We put our products out there and we talk about our products, we market our products directly to patients, letting them know that they can do this themselves, be autonomous, do it in a private manner, especially in today’s environment, that’s something that’s been very appealing to kind of take control of your health in that way. And the other sort of approach is B2B2C approach, and to that end, we have actually partnered with various facilities, healthcare systems, clinics, and so on, to go in there and again complement what they do with their patients. So be their, for lack of a better word, outsourced partner for these genetic testing.

Saul Marquez:
And then in those instances, are you guys white labeling?

Saman Askari:
Correct. So we are, we partnered with labs. So we are not the technology or the lab itself. We are simply the delivery mechanism and the medical services company that allows for this type of delivery.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I appreciate you sharing that. You know, just overall for folks that are listening, like, how do I access this, I’m sure, is going through your mind right now. So you could either check them out in a link that we’ll leave in the show notes, or maybe it’s already being offered by a local provider through Mitera. So very interesting. Love the model. What’s one of the biggest setbacks you’ve run into and what’s the key learning that’s come out of it? It’s a very new field.

Saman Askari:
Yeah, absolutely. So when we were trying to go out to market initially, a lot of the pushback that we received, especially when we were trying to communicate the value that we bring to the table directly to patients, was the fact that patients felt like they didn’t need our services because they could just get it through their doctor. And that was sort of a challenge that we needed to overcome and learn how to communicate the value better because, you know, patients think, oh, okay, this is just a test that I can get. Or if I want to, I could just ask my doctor. But again, the vast majority of people don’t get these tests. And maybe because they’re not offered these tests, but also because of the lack of expertise out there, right? And the vast majority of OB-GYN offices and maybe some maternal-fetal medicine offices don’t have genetic counselors on staff. So there’s no one to really explain what these tests are, what their options are, what the patient’s options are, what the pros and cons are, and so on and so forth. So when people said, Oh, I’ll just go through my doctor, what they didn’t understand was this whole aspect of missing expertise across the country. And that’s something that we’ve had to overcome by being better communicators out there, really putting us putting ourselves out there with the correct message, so to speak.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. And so as you think about tech trends and trends in general in healthcare, what’s one that you think is going to change healthcare as we know it today?

Saman Askari:
Well, the biggest thing that comes to mind is autonomous healthcare. And combined with precision medicine, you know, taking control of your health yourself. Obviously, there’s a big need for physicians and people have sought after expertise or subspecialty expertise to kind of guide that process, and that’s where the bulk of the challenge lies, right? How do you allow people to go online, order tests or receive medical care, but have the whole thing be done in a medically responsible manner where the actual, where they’re getting the type of care that they need and they’re not falling through the cracks, right? So designing the entire process in a way where people are put in touch with people, they’re hand-held through the entire process, and so on and so forth. And that’s where I think we’re headed. There will be a lot of challenges along the way, but I think there are a lot of great work that’s being done to get there.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, for sure. I appreciate that. And so one of the questions that I was going to ask you earlier was if somebody is reaching out to you as a consumer, is this something that they could pay for with an HSA card? Or can they pay with insurance? How does that work?

Saman Askari:
Absolutely. We accept insurance. We have a large in-network presence across the country. So people may use their insurance. We do pre-authorizations for them. They could also pay cash. So our non-invasive prenatal test is 295 dollars all and it’s inclusive of everything we talked about.

Saul Marquez:
The coaching and everything?

Saman Askari:
The coaching, the online education module, a video that they watch that, to understand, really, if they want that test or not, and then any follow-up counseling that may be required as well is all, it’s all included.

Saul Marquez:
I love that. Listen, Saman, this is really cool, and, folks, a great opportunity to pressure test what’s available, how you’re doing things, how your friends are doing things. What’s the best place that people could reach out to you, Saman, and what’s a good closing thought that you want to leave everybody with?

Saman Askari:
Absolutely. So our products are available on MiteraGenetics.com. That’s M I T E R A genetics.com. And the closing thought is around the fact that there’s a lot that one can learn about themselves and about their future children thanks to all the advancements that we’ve seen in the world of genetics, you know, one can know whether or not you have the potential to pass down certain genetic conditions to your children, even with before thinking of starting a family, right? There’s a lot that you can know about the fetus once you’re pregnant very early on in pregnancy. So, you know, you can do that too. It’s not something that is not accessible to people. We’re trying to make it accessible and friendly and kind of demystify that entire world for people. So, you know, I recommend people look into this really exciting world. And overall, I think this will help improve outcomes out there by limiting a lot of invasive procedure in informing people about their pregnancies and potential complications that may come down the line.

Saul Marquez:
Love it, Saman, without a doubt. And you guys are not just giving a test, but you’re providing the support structures and everything that is fundamental in a difficult trying time for a lot of folks. So I can’t appreciate you enough for jumping on with us and definitely looking forward to staying in touch.

Saman Askari:
Thank you, Saul, much for having me on. Appreciate it.

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Things You’ll Learn:

  • Mitera Genetics provides patients with a place where they can get educated on genetic testing, and understand what they are, and if they decide to take one, they can do it from the comfort of their home.
  • Mitera is a telehealth company licensed to provide medical and genetic counseling services in all 50 states.
  • A Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT)  is a simple blood test that can screen your fetus for various genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome. 
  • Mitera’s tests have a 99.7% sensitivity for Down’s Syndrome and a positive predictive value of 95%, as early as ten weeks of pregnancy. 
  • NIPT tests prevent the need to do more invasive and costly procedures such as amniocentesis or chorionic villous sampling
  • Mitera Genetics accepts health insurance plans, but patients can also pay cash; Their non-invasive prenatal test is $295 and includes coaching, an online education module, and any follow-up counseling required.
  • Technology has helped us learn details and characteristics about our family without even starting it. 

Resources:

  • Connect and follow Saman Askari on LinkedIn
  • Follow Mitera Genetics on LinkedIn
  • Discover the Mitera Genetics Website