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Exclusive: Oviva gathers $11.5M looking to extend women's health span

May 19, 2022
Illustration of a medical diagram of a uterus with pills falling all around it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Oviva Therapeutics, a biotech startup focused on preventing ovarian aging, has scored $11.5 million in seed funding from Cambrian Biopharma, CEO Daisy Robinton tells Axios exclusively.

Why it matters: Ovaries aren't only about reproduction. They are the first organ to decline with age, and as they do, accelerate and give rise to many other women's health problems.

  • "The ovary is actually one of the more important organs that impacts overall health," Robinton says. "My hypothesis: If we address [aging] ovaries, we can presumably add on healthy years of living."
  • Loss of ovarian function and menopause heighten the risk of various conditions, including heart disease, loss of bone density, immune dysfunction, along with declines in neurocognitive health.

Yes, and: Robinton says her own personal experiences and concerns, after ending a long-term relationship, led her to the eye-opening and infuriating revelation that the science to support women's health is missing.

  • "I want women to have agency in their lives," she says.

Details: Concurrent with the funding, Oviva is unveiling an in-licensing agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital, through which it will ideally bring its first program from preclinical studies to patients.

  • Robinton, a molecular biologist from Harvard, co-founded the company alongside Patricia Donahoe and David Pépin.
  • Donahoe was among those who pioneered the earliest research on anti-müllerian hormone (AMH), responsible for sexual differentiation in males, and together with Pépin defined the function of the AMH gene in the ovary.

The intrigue: AMH is a really complex protein, and it is difficult to develop therapies around it. Still, Robinton notes, "we have the No. 1 and No. 2 experts around it."

How it works: Oviva, a majority-owned pipeline company of longevity biotech Cambrian Biopharma, is focusing on preventing menopause.

  • The startup is developing a therapeutic around AMH that aims to protect and slow the depletion of the ovarian reserve, controlling how much or often a woman loses eggs.

State of play: There are many longevity plays in biotech, but attention and investment around ovarian research have been minimal. Other biotechs garnering attention and funding:

  • Gameto, also focused on reproductive longevity by reprogramming ovarian cells, collected $23 million in Series A funding led by Future Ventures in January.
  • Celmatix, of a similar vein, has collected $83 million to date, per PitchBook, last raising $6.5 million in Series A venture funding in 2019 from Evotec, Topspin Venture and Life Science Innovation Fund.
  • Other women's health- or fertility-focused biotech startups include the likes of Ivy Natal, Conception and JumpStart Fertility.

The bottom line: If Oviva or any of its peers are successful in their ambitions, it could revolutionize the quality of women's lives.

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