“We could hit a new milestone in the treatment of infertility”

Ignasi Canals i Agnès Arbat

Ignasi Canals and Agnès Arbat met at the pharmaceutical company Bayer and they left their jobs to focus on Oxolife. 

Agnès Arbat and Ignasi Canals lead Oxolifea startup that is developing OXO-001a drug with the potential to treat female infertility as it increases the chances of embryo implantation  a 65%. Arbat and Canals met in pharmaceutical company Bayer while working there and they founded Oxolife in 2013. In 2014 they licensed the drug to Kern Pharma but they got it back in 2019. The results of the phase 1 are already very promising.

The company has completed its first funding round by raising 5,000,000 euros in an investment led by Inveready Asset Management and the public body CDTI, alongside BStartup as well as HighStick2019, and private investors. In early 2020 it raised 1.2 million euros from private investors through the Capital Cell platform in early 2020, and was selected as one of the three winners of the 2nd edition of BStartup Health.

In International Day of Action for Women’s Health, these entrepreneurs explain how they are planning to improve pregnancy success rates in women that need help to procreate.

Agnès and Ignasi, ¿What is the focus of your research?

Our research is a big step forward in the field of fertility. We are developing the first drug that acts on the endometrium to improve embryio implantation. In the coming years our goal is to prove that OXO-001 improves women’s fertility rates. We could hit a new milestone in the treatment of infertility.

Do you think there is an important room for improvement in women’s fertility?

Globally 40% to 50% of women who are on fertility treatments will not be able to carry a pregnancy to term. Current treatments allow a high percentage of women to obtain oocytes but the implantation process has not been improved. Currently there aren’t any drugs nor techniques that facilitate the implantation of the embryo.

Why hasn’t there been any major advances in this field? 

With the current fertility success rates it could seem that there has not been major advances but nothing could be further from the truth. There are very active research groups that have increased assisted reproduction success rates. But it is also true that the process of implantation, which is very complex, is not yet very well-known. In some way we feel that we are pioneers, discovering something new with each step forward -and backward- of our research.

Why did you decide to found Oxolife and move from the security of a job in big pharma to the uncertainty usually associated with startups?

Agnès: Hahaha, in my case I am a doctor and specialist in Clinical Pharmacology and I have always been passionate about women’s health and research. Pharma industry allows you to develop professionally, however it is difficult to take part in the development of a molecule from the beginning. In general, Spain participates in phases II-IV but not is basic research. What appeals to me is being able to follow my own path in research, to define a plan and execute it.

After meeting Ignasi and seeing that we had common knowledge and interests we started to investigate on our own, combining our work in the industry with Oxolife. At one point we could not keep this load of work and we decided to change the focus and get into the start-up world with all our energy and illusion

Ignasi: I had been researching this molecule for 15 years so when I saw that OXO-001 could play an important role in fertility I did not hesitate to join Agnès. I knew we would make the best team for this project and we would put all our effort in it. The team was the decisive factor to leave my job in the pharma industry and move forward with the Oxolife project.

“Women’s health should have a predominant role in research”

In which phase is your drug and when do you think it will be available for patients?

OXO-001 is in Phase I. We have studied various doses with very good results and we are about to study a superior dose. With this we will close the dosing phase. We are very excited to see that at higher doses there are changes in the endometrium that would allow it to be more receptive to the embryo.

We are hoping to receive in June the approval of the Spanish Medicines Agency and to start the clinical trial. We will organise it with Hospital Sant Pau (Barcelona) and the drug will be produced by Kern Pharma. It is essential for Oxolife to count with pioneer centres to ensure the best execution and production.

When we launch phase I we will start preparing phase II. It is going to be a very funny and at the same time challenging experience as there is not a lot of studies in embryo implantation. We are lucky as Spain is a world leader in female’s fertility and we are able to count with national specialists.

Do you think women’s health has a strong business potential?

Infertility affects annually over 76 million women globally every year. It is a prevalent condition as 10% of women in child-bearing age will be diagnosed with infertility. This number is growing annually about 4%-5% due to factors as an older conceiving age, overweight and obesity, among others.

Do you have future plans in this field other than OXO-001?

Absolutely, women’s health should have a predominant role in research in the coming years. There is a clear delay in therapies focused on the female population but this is changing with companies focused on women’s health. At a market level it makes sense as women represents over 50% of the population.

Regarding future projects, Oxolife is focused on female’s infertility and we have other research lines at a very early stage that we hope to develop in the near future.