Flagship Pioneering has debuted a new reproductive health company focusing on sperm rather than egg biology with goals of increasing fertility rates, reducing pregnancy complications and delivering new methods of contraception.
Ohana Biosciences aims to reduce the number of costly and emotionally trying cycles required for successful in vitro fertilization, in part through sperm enhancement treatments delivered ex vivo.
At the same time, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company hopes to address the transmission of inherited diseases and developmental disorders—as well as complications such as miscarriage, premature birth, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes—by separating out sperm with damaged DNA and disease-linked alleles through cell profiling, sequencing and imaging.
“As parental age increases and demographics shift, we face a growing global crisis in reproductive health, and there’s an urgent need to advance science that can tackle growing rates of infertility, inherited disease and pregnancy complications," Flagship CEO and Ohana co-founder Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., said in a statement.
Officially founded in 2016, Ohana is led by President and CEO Amber Salzman, Ph.D., former head of gene therapy companies Adverum Biotechnologies and Annapurna Therapeutics. Prior to that, she spent 25 years in leadership roles at GlaxoSmithKline.
"We specifically recruited Dr. Salzman to lead Ohana because of her deep scientific expertise, clinical development experience, and tireless advocacy for innovative approaches to help patients,” Afeyan said. “Her extensive experience at GlaxoSmithKline as part of the R&D executive team, previous CEO roles, and her renowned leadership in rare disease—born out of her personal journey to find a cure for her son's rare disease—put her in a powerful position to lead Ohana’s mission to reshape reproductive health for people around the world.”
Currently, Ohana is conducting a randomized controlled trial of its sperm preparation kit in participants undergoing IVF at six U.S. fertility centers. The kit consists of a multistep laboratory process prior to insemination, and it will be compared with standard IVF kits and procedures. The company is planning a launch for 2021 to pave the way for its other products in different therapeutic areas.
“At Ohana, our work is deeply personal. Many have struggled with infertility, pregnancy complications or the risk of having our children inherit disease,” said Salzman. “Despite the prevalence of these challenges, the field of reproductive medicine still leaves the vast majority of people untreated.”
“Our scientists have developed the world’s largest database of sequenced sperm to understand sperm biology and intervention points that can impact fertility and fertilization, as well as health outcomes for moms and children,” she said.
This year, Ohana also plans to begin preclinical studies for its non-hormonal, antibody-based contraception products for both men and women. The treatments aim to be long-lasting yet reversible, with a single dose every three months that blocks the sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg.
“Parental health and environmental factors continue to increase the risk of pregnancy complications, inherited diseases, and developmental disorders, creating significant burdens for individuals as well as the entire health care system,” said Flagship executive partner John Mendlein. “Additionally, few choices for contraception exist, most of which are hormone-based and associated with near- and long-term health impacts for women.”