Dr Daisy Robinton talks women’s health, ovarian function and clinical translation.
Last month we brought you the news that women’s health biotech and Cambrian Biopharma *PipeCo Oviva Therapeutics had raised $11.5 in seed funding. The company, which is developing first-in-class therapeutics to improve healthspan in women, also announced an in-licensing agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for three patent families.
Longevity.Technology: Dr Daisy Robinton, a molecular biologist from Harvard University, heads up Oviva as Co-Founder and CEO. We have been watching Oviva with a keen eye – there needs to be a radical rethink of how we address fertility, the menopause and women’s healthspan and longevity (our report into ovarian aging supports this need), and Oviva is one of the companies at the vanguard of this change in thinking, so we were delighted to sit down with Robinton to discuss this latest news.
A $11.5 seed raise is exciting news for the fields of female healthspan and women’s heath in general, and it is testament to investors’ growing interest in this space.
Robinton agrees that there is a groundswell happening in the women’s health space — and that it is one that is long overdue.
She says: “For so many years it was difficult to fund projects, companies, research… but these days there is more and more funding and we’re seeing that reflected in the rise of innovative women’s health companies as well as new research programs dedicated to women’s health.”
Extending ovarian function isn’t just about extending the fertility window – ovarian function links to both aging and health.
“Extending ovarian function is important beyond what benefits it may provide to fertility (for those who want to preserve their fertility for longer),” explains Robinton. “The facts are, many women are relieved when their fertility window has passed – either because they have had all the children they planned for or perhaps they don’t want children. What we’re trying to do is broader than that – we want to preserve female healthspan, the years of life spent in good health.”
When the ovaries decline in function, fertility also declines; however, overall health declines as well, a facet that Robinton feels is perhaps the more important.
Explaining what happens when ovaries decline in function, she says: “Aging accelerates. Your risks for various diseases and ailments skyrocket. I think it’s important that we think in those terms – that we want to preserve women’s health and well-being because that is enough rationale in and of itself to support ovarian function. To give women added years of agency and resilient living.”
Oviva’s other co-founders are Dr Patricia Donahoe, who is among those who pioneered the earliest research on Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH), a hormone responsible for sexual differentiation in the male, and David Pépin, PhD, who defined the function of the AMH gene in the ovary.
The patents that Oviva has licensed were developed at MGH by Drs Donahoe and Pépin and include analogs of AMH, which Oviva aims to develop for therapeutic use in women.
Robinton explains that there has never been clinical development around the AMH pathway, one of the last naturally occurring hormones to have no therapeutic development.
“The AMH axis plays a critical role in regulating ovarian function, so being able to target this mechanistically will open up many doors to address women’s health across a spectrum of diseases,” she says. “And we couldn’t have a better partner than MGH and our scientific Co-founders Dr Patricia Donahoe and David Pépin. Dr Donahoe was one of the first to clone and describe the AMH gene; both she and Dr Pépin have spent decades of their careers focused on understanding the structure and function of this protein.
“They are the world’s leading experts in the space, so we are thrilled, honored and excited to have them on our team driving this progress and clinical translation.”
Oviva is developing an agent targeting folliculogenesis, the process by which follicles in the ovary – each housing a single egg – mature and ultimately ovulate. This process eventually leads to the depletion of most of a woman’s eggs and the subsequent triggering of menopause. While the research is understandably under wraps, Robinton confirms that Oviva is in advanced preclinical stages now with this molecule and initiating talks with the FDA this year.
“We are pursuing women who are poor responders to IVF as our first indication to open the door for using this therapeutic in humans, but we’ll have more coming down the pipeline,” she says.
The work being undertaken by Oviva is spearheading a change in approach to menopause – a change which Robinton fully supports.
“I am deeply passionate about changing the landscape of women’s health and providing new tools for women to live more vibrant lives,” she says, explaining that this kind of work is long overdue.
“There is so much to be done,” she says. “The current landscape around menopause – from both a care perspective and the information we have about it – provides so much opportunity to improve.”
Robinton explains that not only do we need more research in this space, but we also need better diagnostics, better training for healthcare providers and better therapeutics for women.
“Menopause represents a significant change in women’s lives — and it happens to all women — and yet there is so little support, education, awareness around this transition. We can do so much better.”
That being said, Robinton would argue there is much more to it than just menopause.
“Women’s health overall has been lacking in funding and attention for decades,” she explains. “Ultimately we aim to improve female healthspan — extending ovarian function is just one aspect of this.”
Photo credits: Keoma Zec Photography / David Liu