OvaScience grabs $37M B round for fertility treatments

Sirtris veterans have found capital for a new biotech company, OvaScience. The startup, which is focused on developing fertility treatments based on stem cell discoveries, landed a $37 million Series B round of funding and plans to advance its lead therapy into a clinical trial by the end of this year, OvaScience CEO Michelle Dipp tells FierceBiotech.

Dipp, who co-founded OvaScience last year, is a former executive of drug developer Sirtris Pharmaceuticals and played a lead role in negotiating the $720 million sale of that company to GlaxoSmithKine ($GSK) in 2008. Sirtris targets anti-aging genes to treat diabetes and other diseases.

Now helming Cambridge, MA-based OvaScience, Dipp aims to tackle aging from a fertility angle.

Numbers of cellular energizers called mitochondria are linked with the quality of reproductive eggs, and as women age the mitochondria in their eggs dwindle, according to OvaScience. The startup is developing a method of capturing mitochondria from a mother's own ovarian stem cells and injecting them along with sperm into eggs for in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures. The goal is to improve the quality of the eggs and increase the success of IVF, which often fails to result in live births.  

OvaScience's second treatment in the pipeline involves using a type of ovarian stem cell from women to produce new eggs, a potentially revolutionary advance in reproductive medicine that has shown some preclinical promise in the lab of OvaScience co-founder Jonathan Tilly from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Tilly's lab also contributed basic knowledge for the company's IVF-enhancing therapy.

OvaScience has a regulatory nod to begin a clinical trial of its first IVF-boosting treatment, which will be tested in 40 women ages 35 to 42 with at least two previous IVF failures, Dipp says. A control group will include women who will undergo standard IVF. That trial, which begins later this year, is expected to provide the startup with the data necessary to begin marketing the treatment.

The latest round of funding provides the company with enough cash to fuel its operations through 2014, Dipp says. General Catalyst led the new round, which drew investments from several other backers such as BBT Capital Management Advisors, Cycad Group, Hunt BioVentures and RA Capital. OvaScience also raised money from Longwood Fund, of which Dipp is a co-founder and partner, Bessemer Venture Partners and undisclosed investors. Bessemer and Longwood also invested in the company's $6 million Series A round closed last year.

Former Sirtris CEO Christoph Westphal and former Sirtris Director Rich Aldrich are both co-founders of OvaScience and Longwood. Aldrich is also chairman of OvaScience, according to the company's website.

- here's the release