Oh, Baby: OvaScience’s Roadmap to Next-Generation IVF

6/17/13Follow @benthefidler

By the end of next year, Cambridge, MA-based OvaScience will likely begin selling its first product. It’s a system called Augment, designed to boost the success rate of in vitro fertilization.

Normally, that would be a milestone that any life sciences company would be thrilled to achieve. But for OvaScience (NASDAQ: OVAS), it’s nowhere near as critical as a proof-of-concept study unfolding overseas, where the company hopes to fine-tune a process in which a woman’s immature egg cells are turned into young, healthy eggs that can be fertilized. It’s a process that, if successful, could change the IVF paradigm altogether.

“This is really why the company was started,” says OvaScience president and CEO Michelle Dipp. “This was the big discovery.”

The task isn’t easy—in fact, it’ll take years ultimately to move from preclinical test to a sold product, as OvaScience anticipates having to take a traditional route through the regulatory gauntlet to get there. But that is why OvaScience is pushing Augment—which isn’t subject to the same level of regulatory scrutiny—into fertility clinics first. By establishing a credible product, selling it successfully, and raking in revenue, OvaScience can buy the time—and raise the investor cash—it needs to potentially reach its value inflection point.

OvaScience was founded in 2011 by Dipp, Rich Aldrich, and Cristoph Westphal (all of whom worked together at Boston-based Sirtris Pharmaceuticals), and Massachusetts General Hospital’s director of reproductive biology, Jonathan Tilly. The company raised about $43.4 million through two financing rounds from investors such as General Catalyst, BBT Capital Management Advisors, Cycad Group, Hunt BioVentures, RA Capital, and Bessemer Venture Partners before going public in November through a process called Form 10, which allows a company to sell shares at a fixed price and then list on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board before graduating to a larger exchange (such as the Nasdaq) when it meets certain requirements. OvaScience began trading on the Nasdaq in April, just two years after it was formed, and has raised a total of about $83 million.

Michelle Dipp, CEO of OvaScience

That quick trajectory is emblematic of the 37-year-old Dipp’s quick rise through the biotech ranks. She was trained as a general surgeon and had a stint at the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust before becoming the vice president of corporate development at Sirtris, famous for developing drugs based on the anti-aging supplement resveratrol. Dipp helped spearhead Sirtris’s $720 million sale to GlaxoSmithKline in 2008 and stayed on as GSK’s head of business development for three years before getting the itch to again build companies. She left GSK and reunited with Sirtris vets Westphal and Aldrich to form Longwood Fund before setting up shop with OvaScience in 2011.

The idea for OvaScience came to Dipp, she says, after … Next Page »

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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