OvaScience Adds $37M for Fertility Treatments

4/4/12Follow @arleneweintraub

Boston-based OvaScience announced today that it has raised $37 million in a Series B financing, the proceeds of which it will pour into the development of infertility treatments based on stem cell science. The funding round was led by General Catalyst, with participation from BBT Capital Management Advisors, Cycad Group, Hunt BioVentures, RA Capital and existing investors Longwood Fund and Bessemer Venture Partners. OvaScience previously raised $6 million last July.

OvaScience was founded on technology developed by Jonathan Tilly, director of the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2004, Tilly discovered a type of stem cell in the ovary that matures into eggs. OvaScience’s lead program involves isolating these egg stem cells from the patient and extracting the mitochondria—the tiny power centers that provide the energy for cells to divide and grow. The mitochondria is then injected into the patient’s eggs during a type of in vitro fertilization, in which sperm from the father is also injected. The basic idea is to revitalize the eggs to increase the probability of a successful fertilization.

CEO Michelle Dipp says OvaScience is on track to begin a pivotal trial later this year, and that the new funds should carry the company to commercialization. In conjunction with the financing, General Catalyst managing director John Simon will be joining OvaScience’s board, Dipp says. “His background will be a phenomenal addition,” she says. “In addition to being part of a large, top-tier fund, he started UroMed, which was very successful.” On April 3, OvaScience announced that Boston Scientific CFO Jeffrey Capello would also be joining OvaScience’s board.

OvaScience has also started working on a second product based on research by Tilly that was published February 27 in the online edition of the journal Nature Medicine. The paper describes a technique Tilly developed to purify egg stem cells from ovaries. When those cells were put back into mouse ovaries, they matured into new eggs that could be ovulated and fertilized, resulting in healthy embryos. “This would be a completely new approach to fertility,” Dipp says. “We’re taking pre-cursor cells and helping them mature into eggs that are young. That allows them to be fertilized.” Dipp says the company is still studying the technique in animals and it “will be quite some time” before it is ready for human clinical trials.

OvaScience has attracted quite a bit of attention for a young company, largely because of the track record of its founders. Co-founder Christoph Westphal was the co-founder and CEO of Sirtris, which developed drugs to treat age-related conditions and was bought by GlaxoSmithKline in 2008 for $720 million. Dipp was Sirtris’s vice president of corporate development. The two are now partners at Longwood Fund.

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