A $111 million health startup dubbed the 'Uber for birth control' is expanding into a sensitive new area: sexually-transmitted infections

Nurx finger prickHealth startup Nurx will soon start selling tests and treatments for sexually-transmitted infections.Nurx

  • Nurx, which sells birth control and other products online, plans to start selling at-home tests for sexually-transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia in June.
  • The health-tech startup will also treat certain infections, referring others to in-person treatment. Read on for more about how it will work.
  • This marks the first new move since a searing New York Times exposé of the company last month, and is "one of the first decisions I've helped focus the team on," new CEO Varsha Rao told Business Insider.
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Health-tech startup Nurx, best known for selling birth control online that's then sent right to your door, is expanding into a new area: at-home tests for sexually-transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Customers will also be able to get treated through Nurx, depending on the infection. The tests and treatments are set to become available in June.

Nurx STI Test KitNurx's new STI test kits.Nurx

The expansion comes amid large and consistent increases in sexually-transmitted diseases in recent years. There were almost 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in 2017,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point," the CDC's Dr. Jonathan Mermin has said.

Those three diseases can be successfully treated with antibiotics, but many individuals don't even get diagnosed, potentially harming their health, the CDC said.

Read more: uBiome's founder repeatedly presented herself as years younger than she was, in the latest sign of trouble at the embattled $600 million poop-testing startup

Tests mark first new move for Nurx

Founded in 2014, San Francisco-based Nurx sells doctor-prescribed products like the preventive HIV medication known as PrEP. Offered online, the service is so convenient that it has been dubbed the "Uber for birth control."

The startup has raised nearly $42 million from investors like Kleiner Perkins and is valued at about $111 million, according to PitchBook. It has more than 200,000 patients and says it is the leading online provider for birth control and PrEP.

This expansion is the first new move by Nurx since a searing New York Times exposé about it was published last month, finding that the company had cut corners in favor of growing quickly, and that patient care may have suffered in the process. Nurx denies that patient safety was ever at risk, and says that examples cited in the Times story didn't make the context clear enough.

The direction is also "one of the first decisions I've helped focus the team on," said Nurx CEO Varsha Rao, who stepped into the role a month ago. Moving into this area was "really fitting" and in line with Nurx's mission of helping patients meet sensitive healthcare needs, she said.

Read more: The CEO of $111 million birth control startup Nurx told us how she's charting a new path forward after a scorching New York Times exposé

The tests and treatments for sexually-transmitted infections will be available in the near future everywhere Nurx operates. The list currently stands at 25 states and the District of Columbia.

Nurx will also be accepting health insurance, which the company says makes it the only company offering at-home sexually-transmitted infection testing that's covered by insurance. Tests will cost $50 with insurance, and between $140 and $210 without insurance for the three test kits that are offered.

Rival LetsGetChecked offers tests for sexually transmitted infections that range in cost from $99 to $299, depending on how many diseases you want to check for.

The CDC recommends this type of testing roughly once a year, and more frequently depending on various factors. The government agency notes that many clinics provide free or low-cost testing, and other companies also sell at-home tests.

How the Nurx at-home test will work

To take a Nurx test, customers must first request one and fill out a survey that asks, for instance, about an individual's medical history.

The website guides customers to the right test based on prior sexual activity, because infections like gonorrhea can be found in multiple places, including the vagina and penis but also the throat and butt.

Read more: I tried an app that lets you order birth control pills online for free - and it's a game-changer

The survey also screens for those who may have recently been exposed to HIV, in which case Nurx would refer to in-person medical care, Jessica Horwitz, VP of clinical services at Nurx, told Business Insider.

Once a test is ordered, a patient will then get a kit in the mail with instructions. The test will include some combination of the following: a urine sample, throat swab, rectal swab, and/or blood collection.

Once the samples are sent in, a Nurx lab partner carries out the testing. Customers hear back from a medical practitioner about their results and treatment options.

The three tests are:

  • The "Full Control" kit, which has the most comprehensive set of tests and Nurx recommends taking annually. It tests for gonorrhea in three places, chlamydia in three places, syphilis, HIV, and Hepatitis C, and costs $50 with insurance or $210 without.
  • The "Healthy Woman" kit, covering tests for common sexually-transmitted infections affecting women. It tests for gonorrhea in two places, chlamydia in two places, trichomoniasis, and HIV, and costs $50 with insurance or $180 without.
  • The "Basics Covered" kit, which Nurx says is intended for those who usually get comprehensively tested each year but also want to get tested more regularly. It tests for gonorrhea in one place, chlamydia in one place, syphilis, and HIV, and costs $50 with insurance and $140 without.

Nurx biohazard bagOnce patients receive a test in the mail, they send it in using a biohazard bag like the one pictured.Nurx

Nurx can treat infections like chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and, in rare cases, syphilis with oral antibiotics, while referring other positive tests that have to be treated by injection to in-person treatment.

There's also concern about the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of these sexually-transmitted infections. Gonorrhea, for instance, mutates in response to antibiotics, and resistance is influenced by many factors, including wrong use or overuse of common antibiotics.

Nurx is committed to appropriate antibiotic use, Horwitz said.

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