Pharma

Investors back female fertility treatment that may ‘reenergize’ eggs using stem cells

A company’s new technique to improve female infertility treatment based on the controversial idea that women aren’t in fact born with a finite number of eggs is getting the attention of investors — to the tune of more than $38 million raised this year. It looks like OvaScience Inc., a startup working on improving female […]

A company’s new technique to improve female infertility treatment based on the controversial idea that women aren’t in fact born with a finite number of eggs is getting the attention of investors — to the tune of more than $38 million raised this year.

It looks like OvaScience Inc., a startup working on improving female infertility treatment, has followed its $37 million series B this spring with another $1.4 million from 41 investors this summer, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Based on infertility research by Jonathan Tilly at Massachusetts General Hospital, OvaScience’s lead program isolates a certain egg-producing stem cell found in the ovary and extracts the cells’ mitochondria, their main source of energy. As the number and function of mitochondria decrease with age, OvaScience’s idea is that it can revitalize eggs and improve their quality by injecting those extracted mitochondria into an egg during in vitro fertilization.

But the company hasn’t gotten that far yet. In February, researchers had a study published in Nature Medicine in which they took stem cells from donated healthy human ovaries, injected them into pieces of human ovary and transplanted that tissue under the skin of mice. Those cells, the researchers said, could spontaneously form new egg cells within two weeks. Some experts are apprehensive about the technique, as it challenges the long-held belief that women have a finite number of eggs that run out in middle age.

CEO Michelle Dipp did not immediately return a phone call for comment, but told Xconomy in April that the company would begin a pivotal trial later this year and that the series B would carry the company to commercialization. According to Mass High Tech, the company plans to launch a product in 2013, initially for women who have failed in vitro fertilization previously.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, about 1-in-10 women have trouble getting pregnant. A 2011 market report from URCH Publishing estimated that there are more than 40 products being developed for female and male contraception.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based OvaScience was founded in 2011 by Tilly, fellow Harvard Medical School professor David Sinclair and three partners of Longwood Fund, including Dipp, former senior vice president at GlaxoSmithKline. Longwood and Bessemer Venture Partners led a $6 million series A last year.

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