UPDATED: Bob Nelsen, Anne Wojcicki join $20M round for longevity startup hoping to slow down aging of the ovary
Having helped birth some of the earliest anti-aging upstarts, Bob Nelsen has found another new idea to love in the burgeoning space.
The ARCH managing director is among a syndicate pouring $20 million of Series A cash into Gameto, a New York-based biotech whose stated mission is to reprogram ovarian cells to slow down the aging of the ovary — which is very much “accelerated” compared to other organs, according to the company.
Other investors include 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki, Future Ventures, Bold Capital Partners, Lux Capital, Plum Alley, TA Ventures and Overwater Ventures.
“I think this field a woman’s health truly needs a success story,” CEO Dina Radenkovic told Endpoints News.
Trained in the UK and the US, Radenkovic was a co-founder and CSO of a longevity clinic in London and spent the past year as a visiting scientist at the Buck Institute in California while booting up Gameto with Martin Varsavsky, an entrepreneur who runs one of the largest fertility clinics in the US. She officially moved over as CEO last August while Varsavsky assumed the chairman role.
“Ovaries age five times faster than other organs, resulting in infertility, early menopause and increased years of poor health for women,” she said in a statement. “We want to change the narrative of female reproductive longevity and address the root causes of sex/gender inequality in our society.”
Leaning on a sponsored research pact with the George Church lab, the company’s platform has three pillars: one to improve assisted fertility (which will be the initial focus), another to initiate drug discovery and the last to “make the medical burden of menopause optional.”
One of the tools Gameto has come up with, according to Radenkovic, are “ovaroids” — ovarian supporting cells and site precursors — that, like organoids, can be used to model the real organ and run observational experiments to see what effects drugs may have.
As the company explains in a press release:
Based on the rapid aging nature of ovaries, they are an excellent model to study human aging. Gameto wants to synchronize the pace of ovarian aging to the rate of aging in other organs such as the liver, brain, or skin. When ovaries are termed “geriatric” by many traditional medical criteria, the rest of the body is certainly not and this has contributed to the societal and demographic issues we are facing today. Considering human healthspan and lifespan have increased significantly, Gameto believes this biological phenomenon is no longer fit for purpose and is a problem worth solving. Gameto sees the potential to expand its platform to the entire aging market.
Specifics are sparse, but in an interview with TechCrunch, Radenkovic noted that the company has begun testing whether ovarian supporting cells could help mature eggs and reduce the number of IVF cycles.
The technology also has the potential to shake up the current treatment landscape, added Maryanna Saenko, co-founder of Future Ventures. Saenko described hormone replacement therapies as “blunt hammers, lacking personalization.”
“The suffering caused by menopause is not a biological imperative,” she said, “and the many complications that come along with menopause, particularly early-onset menopause, can be entirely avoided.”
Radenkovic raised primary ovarian insufficiency, where the ovary stops functioning earlier than it’s supposed to, as one of the potential conditions that Gameto may aim to treat with its eventual cell therapies.
“I’m not gonna say that it’s not a difficult field,” she said. “I think, you know, if I was to be 100% honest with you, yes, we are most — we are likely to fail. It is a risk. But I think because it’s such an unmet need and because of the way we regulate it, we end up with a patient population that ends up being unserved is what makes us even more excited to do this.”