OvaScience Uses Stem Cells to Revive Fertility

10/12/11Follow @arleneweintraub

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the mitochondria into her eggs during a type of in vitro fertilization, in which sperm from the father is also injected. “IVF is magic if you have great eggs,” says Dipp. “But as we get older, egg quality declines. Our technique is aimed at increasing the quality of the eggs.”

The idea of injecting mitochondria into eggs has been tried before, Dipp says. But those techniques relied on donor eggs, which had different mitochondrial DNA from that of the mother. It never caught on because it’s not appropriate to use another person’s DNA, Dipp says. The key to OvaScience’s approach, she says, is that the rejuvenating mitochondria comes from the same person who’s donating the egg—the mother, in essence, is providing the material necessary to revive her own fertility.

OvaScience is preparing to start a pivotal trial in 2012. Dipp says the company will recruit 40 patients between the ages of 35 and 42 who have failed IVF one or two times. They will be treated at one of two Massachusetts IVF centers, Dipp says. The trial will go on for 12 to 18 months, with one of the primary goals being “healthy live births,” she says.

OvaScience estimates that the total market for IVF is around $10 billion a year—a market that has grown 60 percent in the last 10 years, Dipp says. That growth has come in spite of IVF’s iffy prognosis: for 55 percent of women under age 40 IVF will ultimately fail. That failure rate skyrockets to 85 percent in women over 40.

OvaScience hasn’t yet estimated what the market potential of its product will be. A lot will depend on how OvaScience’s service is ultimately marketed, says Stephen Kraus, a partner at Bessemer Ventures in Cambridge, MA. “There are potentially several ways we could commercialize this,” including pitching it directly to fertility specialists, he says. “We are currently working with our advisors on the go-to-market strategy.”

Dipp adds that if the technique proves effective, OvaScience may find demand for it from a wide range of women. “There are all kinds of situations where a younger woman has older ovaries,” she says, perhaps because of cancer treatments or medical conditions that cause them to lose their fertility. “There’s definitely the possibility of expanding to markets where we try this technique the first time around.”

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