A women’s healthcare brand is starting to take shape • TechCrunch
Until last year, health care funding continued to break records. But there remains at least one very big hole in the industry. No one has yet created a broad, leading women’s healthcare brand, and this represents an opportunity.
Dina Radenkovic is one of those who sees this, and in her company, Gameto, she specifically wants to build a massive healthcare business that redefines reproductive health. A bioinformatics researcher with a medical degree from University College London, Radenkovic is currently primarily focused on using cellular engineering to shorten IVF cycles. But the biggest business she has in mind would one day make it possible for young women to freeze their eggs so easily and cheaply that there would be no reason not to. Later, if some of those same women turned to IVF, Gameto would help improve their chances of success at a price that doesn’t break the bank. Still later, these same customers could turn to Gameto to extend the life of their ovaries. Radenkovic’s Thought: Women Live Longer; their ovaries could and should also function longer.
It’s the start of the New York-based startup, which currently has only one biologic in preclinical trials. Chances are that nothing she imagines will come to fruition. Still, investors like Insight Partners and Future Ventures value his vision and credentials.
They also like its New York and Spain-based team, including co-founder and president Martin Varsavsky, who has already launched numerous businesses, including a Wi-Fi connectivity company called FON, and Prelude, a chain of health clinics. fertility which is one of roughly a handful of similar facilities that are now enrolling patients in Gameto’s trials. In fact, the VCs have already funded Gameto to the tune of $40 million.
We first spoke with the company in January, when it had just secured its $20 million Series A round. Nearly 12 months and an economic downturn later, we spoke with Radenkovic again about the progress Gameto has made – and some of the challenges it has yet to overcome.
TC: In our last conversation, you were very excited about the potential to delay or even eradicate menopause. But now you’re focusing more on a biologic trying to improve IVF results, which is a more crowded area. Why?
DR: We know that one in eight couples suffer from infertility. [in part] because we have this problem [with] ovarian aging as our ovaries age faster than the rest of the body. Women are born with a finite number of eggs, and we keep losing them throughout life, and by the time we want to use them, we may not be able to. We also know that although many couples are infertile, only about 2% of babies are currently born through assisted reproductive technology. It’s one of the few industries where you could see it doubling or tripling in a very short time horizon. A good example is the UK, where egg freezing has increased tenfold over the last 10 years because the technology has improved so much; previously, we did not know how to freeze eggs without destroying them.
The technology wasn’t there but it’s also expensive.
Yes, for women to freeze their eggs, they have to spend $15,000 to $20,000, with some variations between states and different jurisdictions around the world. They also require about two weeks of hormone injections which are given to the whole body to stimulate and artificially stimulate the ovaries, which is both inconvenient and leads to side effects ranging from nausea and bloating to potentially more serious side effects like ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. So for this reason even though egg freezing technology [now works well] , it accounts for about 7% of total IVF cycles in the United States right now. So it’s still very small. We believe we can expand the market and enable more women to use this service.
You say the biologic you are developing is different from IVF as it exists today, that patients using it only need to undergo two to four days of hormonal stimulation versus two to four weeks. How?
We are a cell engineering biotechnology company. We started with a sponsor research agreement with George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School. Our underlying technology allows us to convert stem cells into cells of the reproductive system. And we build that into the organoid model of the reproductive system. And we use it to derive therapeutic biologics that occur for disease of the reproductive system. Our first product, Fertilo, is a derivative of an engineered ovarian support cell line, and what that allows us to do is add Fertilo to eggs in a dish in the embryology lab and help them mature and improve their quality by mimicking a natural process. which occurs in the ovary. Normally in our ovaries we have immature eggs and ovarian support cells that help with egg maturation, so we try to mimic this natural process and thus reduce the need for injections.
[Editor’s note: The IVF process as it’s designed today aims to stimulate the follicles in someone’s ovaries so that they produce and mature eggs in preparation for an egg collection procedure; Gameto thinks it can move this process outside of the body.]
Can you make eggs more viable with your technology? Or is the viability of an egg predetermined?
Well, we ripen eggs, and ripe eggs are basically viable, good eggs that are more likely to [develop into] healthy embryos and healthy babies. So certainly, by improving the maturation, you also improve the quality of the eggs. And we did very thorough analyses, both imaging and sequencing [standpoint] to show that it is not only the maturity but also the quality of these eggs which is improved.
You talk about opening up marketing, which means your process might end up being more affordable. How?
Much of the cost is for injectable drugs. A lot of it is ultrasounds and blood tests, isn’t it? Women are medicalized through this process, but if you could potentially change this protocol by eliminating injections or reducing them to the bare minimum of injections the patient needs, you could reduce clinic visits, you could reduce the need for [expensive] medications. You can make it much more convenient, shorter and cheaper. And that’s what we hope to do. Our mission is really around access as well as efficiency and convenience.
What does the data from your preclinical trials tell you and how many women have participated in these trials so far?
We recruited more than 120 women in our studies. And we find that one, our product is non-toxic, and two, it helps in egg maturation. We therefore hope to complete our preclinical data by the end of the year. And then certainly what will be the next step is to see if that translates into live births, so there’s still work to be done. We are not passing judgment yet. We do science slowly. But the data we’re getting so far is promising, and it certainly shows that there’s good science out there. . . in that we are seeing increased egg maturation.
What do you think it will take for women to consider freezing their eggs as something that should be done regularly?
We have to make it cheap and convenient. When it comes to egg freezing today, it is often a decision about balancing the risks and benefits. So you can imagine a 28-year-old woman living in New York, who has saved $20,000 and has 10 days of paid vacation, and she’s wondering whether to use that to go on vacation with her friends, or to use those same resources injecting herself at home and getting bloated and having to explain to people why she freezes her eggs — [people who might ask] if there is something wrong with her or why she is delaying having children. There is a lot of potential judgment.
But let’s say we end up showing that the [minimal] the injection protocol works. Now imagine a world where you enter [to a clinic for your egg extraction] for a day, and that’s it. You can go back to work. You don’t need to mess up your whole body. You can even repeat [the process] two or three times until you get enough eggs. And then you have a monthly subscription where your eggs are frozen for safety, because so many things can happen, from taking medication to having an accident or cancer or just deciding that you want to have a second or third child later on. , when you I am 38 years old. I mean, we’re living two years longer every decade, but the age at which we lose our fertility hasn’t really been lengthened since the introduction of medical records.
Speaking of women living longer, you and I talked earlier this year about another biologic drug – Ameno – that you wanted to develop for women to basically delay menopause from when most women are currently going through it. . Are you still working on it?
Right now we are really focused on bringing Fertilo from the clinic to the market. We made a first prototype for Ameno but since we are a small company and have started to get very promising data for Fertilo, our current team is currently focusing on infertility.
It’s a matter of prioritization. IVF is, I think, really the best firstwomen’s health starting point, although I could probably go on far too long about all the things that need to be addressed. Like, seriously, when you look at women’s health drugs, there’s basically nothing. Much of it is purely hormonal. There are a lot of things to cover here. And we certainly have this platform technology [to do that] .
The reason IVF is so good is that it’s always done in a dish, so very quickly we were able to test our product in a dish and then move that dish from our lab to the IVF clinic lab. . . But menopause and fertility are very closely linked, aren’t they? These are all ovarian aging phenotypes. If you look almost at a trajectory of ovarian function, we know that the ovaries age faster than the rest of the female body and we experience infertility first and very soon after that whole concept of perimenopause and of menopause. . .
By providing treatment, you could have a more ongoing health care program that starts with women when they’re young, talking to them about things like egg freezing, and then they come back for IVF if they ever want to access this service, then very soon after, they benefit from support around perimenopause and menopause. You’re really following women through the trajectory of ovarian aging, which is essentially the right path if you’re thinking about biology, not current service delivery.
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