Dawn Bio develops a drug discovery platform based on human embryo models for drug development for women’s reproductive health. We chatted with co-founder Alok Javali about the challenges of being a women’s health startup and how they have benefitted from BII’s Venture Lab program and BII’s Women’s Health initiative.
Which problems do you aim to solve?
Global fertility decline has considerable social, economic, and geopolitical consequences and places a significant emotional burden on society. Despite this tremendous impact, very few therapeutics exist to improve women’s reproductive health. The lack of a physiologically relevant discovery platform is the major bottleneck to developing such drugs.
What inspired you to embark on an entrepreneurial journey?
WHO has recognized fertility as one of the top global health concerns of the century. Despite its importance, there is a lack of innovation in the field, particularly regarding women’s reproductive health. When we developed our technology in our academic lab, we recognized its unique potential to disrupt this field, where there is a massive vacuum due to the lack of rational discovery platforms. As the inventors of the technology, we are in the best position to accelerate its commercialization. And it’s an incredible thrill to prepare all this while seeing this long-term vision of contributing to science and medicine.
How do you differentiate yourself from others, and how do you make a difference?
The first week of pregnancy is crucial and is prone to failure. Most pregnancy loss happens at this stage, specifically an event called embryo implantation. Therefore, implantation is considered a bottleneck to establishing a successful pregnancy. Defects in implantation cause multiple clinical conditions, such as repeated implantation failure, spontaneous miscarriages, etc., leading to infertility. Poor implantation rate is also a bottleneck to the success of existing therapeutic procedures such as in vitro fertilization. Despite tremendous significance, no approved therapeutics are currently in the market acting at the implantation stage. This is solely because of the lack of appropriate models to discover disease-relevant targets and develop novel molecules acting on these targets. Our proprietary platform based on stem cell-based models of human embryogenesis and implantation will, for the first time, allow us to perform high throughput screening as well as deep phenotypic screenings to improve existing therapeutic procedures such as IVF and develop first-in-class therapeutics for a range of conditions associated with women’s infertility.
Which milestones do you need to achieve during the Venture Lab program?
Our first target is to develop products to improve IVF outcomes. During BII’s Venture lab program, we will perform preclinical testing of our already identified compounds. This validation takes us to the crucial inflection point required to prepare for clinical trials and raise funds. Meanwhile, we are expanding the team, discussing with the leading players in the field of IVF and pharma to develop partnerships for bringing IVF products to market and to devise long-term strategies to use the platform for drug discovery.
What does it mean for you as an early-stage startup that BII financially supports great ideas within women’s health and has established a Women’s Health Initiative and Women’s Health Innovation Panel?
The significant unmet needs within the spectrum of women’s health remain heavily under-addressed. Especially in the field of women’s reproductive health, innovations have been extremely rare in the past few decades for multifactorial reasons. The lack of innovations has concealed the market potential. As a result, there is suboptimal support from investors to early-stage companies in this field, which further affects innovations. Financial support to early-stage companies from BII can help companies such as dawn-bio mature their technologies to bring them to market rapidly and efficiently. Such support is a need of the hour to unleash the previously stagnant field with substantial societal implications.
How do you benefit from being part of BII’s community?
We just started the Venture Lab program a few months ago. But their support has already been incredible. Of course, the funding itself helps us make further progress. In addition, the coaching and support in finding collaborators, partners, talent, and investors have been instrumental. Our BII anchors, Matthias and Johanna, have already helped us a lot with making warm introductions to potential strategic partners, finding employees, etc. We also actively participate in Crunches and Halos, which gives us customized coaching to establish strong business cases for our startup and provide a unique opportunity to interact closely and share experiences with other startups in the BII community. This has been valuable in tackling some of our challenges and preparing in advance for future challenges. Overall, being part of this community has been a great learning experience.