With every year, more scientists and academics are very specifically trying to lengthen the lifespan of humans and ensure that those extra years are worth living. Some of these teams are focused on detecting cancer earlier as a means of extending longevity; some are working to improve people’s metabolism.
A small but growing group is also beginning to focus on menopause, which impacts half the population and whose onset is associated with a long list of health conditions, from higher blood pressure, “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, which is a form of fat in the blood, to, even more frighteningly, a greater risk of breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.
The newest outfit focused on the cause is Gameto, which says it wants to solve the problem of “accelerated” ovarian aging to change the trajectory of women’s health and equality.
As explained by the company’s co-founder and CEO, Dina Radenkovic, who studied medicine at University College London and has spent most of her career in computational medicine, ovaries age up to five times faster than any organ in the sense that they stop working far earlier than, say, the liver, or brain, or even skin. While women are born with a certain number of ovocytes — an immature female sex cell that later gives rise to a fully mature ovum or egg cell — they eventually run out of these, at which point their ovaries stop functioning as an organ and stop producing the hormones that control women’s physiology.
One-year-old Gameto wants to help delay that process, or even push it off forever if a woman chooses, by developing a platform for ovarian therapeutics that will initially be used to improve the process of assisted fertility but hopefully, eventually, be used, too, to identify cell therapies that can prevent what Radenkovic describes as the “medical burden” of menopause.
How exactly? It’s still early days and Radenkovic is loath to dive into specifics, but she says that the young company has already begun testing whether ovarian supporting cells could help mature eggs and reduce the number of IVF cycles that women often endure currently.
“We have strong preclinical evidence to believe in our platform,” she says of the outfit, which is chaired by serial entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, whose last company, Prelude Fertility, has created a nationwide network of fertility centers across the U.S.
Some notable investors are willing to bet on that early evidence, and on Radenkovic. New York-based Gameto just raised $20 million in funding led by Future Ventures, whose co-founder, Maryanna Saenko, says the firm is “deeply excited about the prospect of a better standard of care for women undergoing menopause. The suffering caused by menopause is not a biological imperative, and the many complications that come along with menopause, particularly early-onset menopause, can be entirely avoided” along with today’s hormone replacement therapies, which she describes as “blunt hammers, lacking personalization.”
Other participants include Bold Capital Partners, Lux Capital, Plum Alley, TA Ventures, Overwater Ventures, Arch Venture Partners co-founder Robert Nelsen and 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki.
Gameto had previously raised $3 million in seed funding, including from Atomic founder Jack Abraham, SALT Fund, FJ Labs, Yes VC, Coatue Management founder Dan Rose and Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong.
Whatever happens with the startup, the market opportunity is huge, and the thesis — given that people are living longer — makes obvious sense. Indeed, look for other startups to begin focusing more squarely on delaying menopause as funding becomes available to them, especially given that researchers have been looking into menopause as a treatable disease for at least several years. (You can check an earlier paper from 2019 here.)
Gameto already has some competition, including from Celmatix, a 12-year-old company that’s creating a drug program to slow the depletion of a woman’s ovarian reserve and that similarly hopes to separate a woman’s endocrine function from reproduction.
According to Fortune, Celmatix company has already received some institutional support, including a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work on nonhormonal contraceptives. Early last year, it separately announced a partnership with pharmaceutical giant Bayer and the drug development company Evotec.