Based in Japan, biotech startup Diosve’s big goal is to grow human oocytes, or eggs, from other tissues. Its mission is to help people struggling with infertility, and it recently raised $3 million from Coral Capital, led by ANRI.
DiosV’s mission may sound like something out of science fiction, but it is based on a scientific technique first developed in 2006 called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
The startup’s scientific advisor, Dr. Nobuhiko Hamazaki, a research expert at the University of Washington, developed Diosve’s technology as DIOLs (directly induced oocyte-like cells) that can convert iPS cells en masse into oocytes. DIOLs is currently undergoing testing and has been published in the scientific journal Nature.
The new funding will allow Diosev to hire more people and accelerate its research and development. Aiming to achieve proof of concept by incubating mice with DOLs, he recently set up a new lab in Tokyo and hired an IPS specialist.
As Dr. Hamazaki explained, the resulting pluripotent stem cells can be used to grow all the cells in the body. For example, other researchers are finding ways to use iPS to grow organs outside the body, stimulate beta cells in pancreas to cure diabetes, and generate neural stem cells to treat spinal cord injuries. iPS cells can be made from tissues such as muscle or blood cells.
DIOLs initially give rise to primordial germ cells, sperm and oocytes. It differentiates between them to obtain oogonia or precursor oocytes and then introduces genes into iPS cells. This means that people with infertility problems can use DIOLs to have children with their own genetic material.
According to Dr. Hamazaki, it usually takes 30 days to obtain an oocyte in mice, while it can take up to six months for human oocytes.
Diosve CEO Kazuma Kishida became interested in biotechnology when he was diagnosed with hepatitis C as a teenager. The treatment at that time had serious side effects and low response, so the doctor told him to wait a few years because a new drug was being developed in the United States. Three years later, Kishida was cured of hepatitis C. “That medicine really changed and contributed to the world,” he said. “I wanted to do something that could change the world, like the new medicine.”
According to Kishida, Diosve has been thinking a lot about the safety and ethics of DIOLs, often talking to patients and specialists in science and medical ethics. Issues currently being pursued include the legacy effects of the technology: can it not only produce healthy babies, but also prevent health problems in future generations?
“Of course we are very careful about ethics. We need to be very careful because this technology can be applied to the process of giving birth, Dr. Hamazaki said, “If this is implemented, we need to have a deep discussion with the community to reach a consensus, and we can implement this technology to the extent that we can.”
Dioseve isn’t the only biotech startup developing ways to grow human oocytes. Others include Ivy Natal and Conception, both based in San Francisco, which are developing ways to grow eggs from other cells. Diosev says his competitive edge is his research progress and practicality.