Less than 18 Months After Launch, Ohana Biosciences Closes Its Doors

Salzman_Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty

Amber Salzman, CEO of Ohana Biosciences, pictured above. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

After failing to raise enough money to stay open, Ohana Biosciences is closing its doors. Launched in January 2020 by Flagship Pioneering, Ohana was being dubbed a “first-in-category reproductive health company” focused on the industry’s first sperm biology platform. This was a major shift from the traditional approach of focusing on egg biology.

The company was originally founded in 2016, led by chief executive officer Amber Salzman and based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company believed it had a new approach to improving fertility rates, decreasing pregnancy complications, inherited diseases and development disorders, while also delivering non-hormonal contraception.

In the January 2020 announcement, Noubar Afeyan, co-founder of Ohana and chief executive officer of Flagship Pioneering, stated, “As parental age increases and demographics shift, we face a growing global crisis in reproductive health, and there’s an urgent need to advance science that can tackle growing rates of infertility, inherited disease, and pregnancy complications. We specifically recruited Dr. Salzman to lead Ohana because of her deep scientific expertise, clinical development experience, and tireless advocacy for innovative approaches to help patients. Her extensive experience at GlaxoSmithKline as part of the R&D executive team, previous CEO roles, and her renowned leadership in rare disease—born out of her personal journey to find a cure for her son’s rare disease—put her in a powerful position to lead Ohana’s mission to reshape reproductive health for people around the world.”

Salzman has indicated that they decided to wind down the company, is cutting staff to “minimal operations” and working to place laid-off employees with new positions.

The focus of Ohana involved single-cell sequencing, which allows researchers to evaluate individual cells that make up different tissues in a precise manner. David Berry, a general partner at Flagship, was interested in how single-cell sequencing could be used to analyze the differences between sperm and egg cells, and noted how understudied sperm was compared to eggs. Ohana’s sperm biology platform leveraged single-cell sequencing, cell surfacing profiling, and computational biology to study a library of genetic and molecular data derived from individual sperm. They then applied machine learning and integrative analytic approaches to identify characteristics important to reproductive health.

On January 14, 2021, the company published foundational research in Science that supported the heterogeneity of human sperm. Their findings suggested “sperm-level natural selection,” which is to say, not all sperm are created equal, and that the company’s premise that sperm cells could be leveraged to improve reproduction, pregnancy, birth and development outcomes made sense.

Its first product opportunity from the platform was SPERTILITY, an ex vivo sperm cell treatment to “improve outcomes for people using ART, such as In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF).” Its first-in-human clinical trial, SPRING, was expected to present initial data in the first quarter of this year. The company was also developing a non-hormonal, antibody-based contraception for men and women, which were in preclinical development.

SPERTILITY pre-clinical data demonstrated that the novel sperm enhancement treatment increased the hyperactivation of sperm, which would lead to increased likelihood of pregnancy for couples using Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).

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