An ambitious fertility company plagued by a series of disappointments is playing out its final act — serving as a vehicle for another venture’s success. OvaScience, once valued at $1.8 billion for its idea to help older women extend their reproductive years, is merging with Ann Arbor’s Millendo Therapeutics.
The reverse merger is a way for Millendo to back its way onto the Nasdaq market, as OvaScience is already listed as $OVAS. Using a nearly-defunct public company as a vehicle is a fairly common way to gain access to the public markets without going on a lengthy roadshow and putting together your own IPO. After the merger is wrapped up, the combined company will be called Millendo Therapeutics, of course, and the new ticker symbol will be $MLND.
A group of investors has come together to back Millendo, committing $30 million for after the merger is complete. The money comes from New Enterprise Associates, Frazier Healthcare Partners, and Roche Venture Fund, among others. The new money will set up Millendo to push forward two programs: ATR-101, in Phase IIb trials for congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a rare endocrine disease; and a brand new drug to its pipeline called livoletide. The latter is a Phase II program acquired from French biotech Alizé Pharma SAS last year. The med is meant to treat a rare genetic disease called Prader-Willi Syndrome (the most common form of genetic obesity). That program is planned to enter Phase IIb/III trials in the first quarter of 2019.
“We are excited about the opportunities created by this merger, as it positions us to become a leader in rare endocrine diseases with the funding needed to pursue the potential approval and commercialization of our first-in-class programs,” said Julia Owens, president and CEO of Millendo, in a statement.
It’s good news for Millendo, but a sad end for OvaScience. OvaScience was founded seven years ago around the dogma-challenging claim by a scientist now at Northeastern University that he had discovered “egg precursor” cells in human ovaries that could generate new, young eggs for older women, potentially extending reproductive years. OvaScience’s founders included Boston/Cambridge big shots like Rich Aldrich, Michelle Dipp, David Sinclair and Christophe Westphal.
Extending fertility years was the long goal, but the company’s first lead product, called Augment, was meant to boost a woman’s chance of pregnancy during IVF treatment. The uptake for that service was painstakingly slow, and the company’s stock slowly declined over the years. One day a multibillion dollar company, the next it’s firmly a pennystock.
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