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Pre-Seed Workshop Title: Test for Male Infertility
Participated in Pre-Seed Workshop: 2010
Principal Investigator: Alexander Travis, PhD
Product: Assay for male fertility
While there are many technologies and companies that focus on female infertility, very few are actively working in the space to provide potential fertility solutions for male infertility. The following facts and figures illustrate the problem:
Cornell researcher Alexander Travis, Associate Professor of Reproductive Biology of Cornell University’s Baker Institute for Animal Health, made groundbreaking discoveries in his laboratory work that led to his idea to create a clinical test for male infertility and a company based on his technology.
While current male fertility tests determine sperm count, mobility, and structure, Travis’ idea for a test is unique in that it is the only test being developed to determine if the sperm is able to fertilize an egg. Travis’ scientific investigation of the problem focused on sperm non-viability caused by the failure of capacitation of the sperm. Capacitation is the process sperm must undergo to become able to fertilize an egg. Inside the female tract, the membranes of capacitating sperm undergo several changes that allow sperm to start a hyperactivated swimming pattern so it has the ability to move through the Fallopian tube and through the external covering of the egg, and secondly, the sperm undergo a process in which enzymes are released that enable the sperm to pass through the cells surrounding the egg, and interact with the external covering of the egg. The changes that occur as a result of capacitation collectively enable the sperm to fertilize the egg. If capacitation does not occur, the sperm cannot fertilize.
In 2010, Travis was the co-PI of a CAT-funded project, “Development of a Device for Characterizing and Sorting Membrane Proteins in their Native State”, together with PI Susan Daniel of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering. This investigation of lipid-associated proteins held the scientific underpinnings that influence other technologies, as it formed the basis of investigations on signaling pathways and proteomic identification of lipid-associated proteins, and helped to advance Travis’ work on a male fertility assay.
Also in 2010, Travis and his team participated in the Cornell CAT’s Pre-Seed Workshop to fully explore the scope of the problem of male infertility and the feasibility of his idea for a new business to be launched out of his interest in a designing an assay for male infertility. Travis’ experience in the Pre-Seed Workshop brought him to the pivotal decision that he would create a new startup company based on his assay, called Androvia LifeSciences, LLC.
In his own words, Travis reports on his positive experience in the Pre-Seed Workshop (PSW):
"I attended the PSW in April 2010, along with 2 people from my lab. Mike Riedlinger (Director of the Rochester BioVenture Center and High Tech Rochester Technology Commercialization Manager) was my mentor. The PSW taught me to think 180˚ differently than what I was accustomed to as a scientist. The slides we generated around our male fertility assay were used with minor modification in both the written and oral stages of my successful application for a BioAccelerate NYC Prize (economic development award). That award let us generate clinical data that in turn excited investors, leading to the formation of Androvia LifeSciences. Androvia has licensed the technology from Cornell and has several part-time employees in NYC and several in a lab in New Jersey.
Along with CEO Michael Novinski, who was identified and referred to Travis by Lou Walcer, Director of the McGovern Center, Travis as Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) founded Androvia LifeSciences, LLC in 2014 with the support of generous investment. Androvia is in process of bringing Travis’ proprietary biomarker-based male infertility assay to commercial realization. By developing a way to measure sperm’s ability to capacitate, Androvia aims to help couples to make informed decisions about their fertility and to find the right fertility solution for them.
Androvia’s economic impact on New York State at the time of this writing includes 7 new jobs created (5 full-time and 2 part-time employees). The forthcoming male infertility assay has potential for widespread use in a $301.5M global market by 2020. The global male infertility market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.60% over the period 2014-2019. North America is expected to be the largest share holding market during the forecast period due to the factors such as availability of well-established healthcare infrastructure and high level awareness amongst the people about infertility disorders.