January 18, 2022 -- Change may be on the horizon for the traditionally competitive and underinvested field of women's health, according to scientific experts in the field. With increased awareness, fast-paced innovation, and appropriate investment, the sector is ripe for progress. ScienceBoard spoke with Martin Lehr, CEO of Context Therapeutics, as part of Biotech Finance Month 2022.
Lehr participated in a Biotech Showcase session titled "Women's Health: Progress and Innovation Continue to Drive Increased Investor Interest." The panel featured leaders from Context Therapeutics, EndoCyclic Therapeutics, Gennev, iSono Health, and Univfy.
What is women's health?
Defining women's health seems deceptively simple, but there are many definitions that exist, according to Biotech Showcase panelists. To some companies and investors, it is defined by specific diseases, like hormonally related diseases or diseases that impact women differently than men. To others, the term is restricted to only breast cancer.
An evolving term -- Femtech -- has emerged, denoting technologies focused on women's health. The panelists explained that the classification has helped with visibility and getting investors (traditionally a male-dominated space) to be intrigued and motivated to explore and learn more about the category. Ultimately, the panel called for more female investors.
Recently, there has been an emergence of Femtech-focused companies and products. But the innovations seen from this group are merely incremental improvements, according to Lehr. What the industry needs is logarithmic changes that catalyze a massive step forward toward cures.
One such innovation that has the potential to create this logarithmic jump is immunotherapy, Lehr said. Investors are already interested in this field, and getting investors to invest in women's cancer immunotherapy could be transformative.
Advanced therapies for women's cancers
Lehr explained that Context Therapeutics is a mission-driven company dedicated to women's oncology. The company strives to develop products that enhance the quality of life for women living with cancer.
The company's lead candidate is onapristone extended release (ONA-XR), a progesterone receptor antagonist that inhibits the progesterone receptor by binding to chromatin, in turn downregulating cancer stem cell mobilization and blocking immune evasion. The progesterone receptor is a ligand-activated transcription factor that promotes progesterone-dependent cancers, such as ovarian, uterine (endometrial), and breast cancers.
These cancers hijack progesterone to stimulate cancer cell proliferation, metastasis, regeneration, and immune evasion. ONA-XR is currently being investigated in four phase II trials, and the company expects to report findings from these studies in 2022.
Context is also developing an anti-CD3 x anti-Claudin 6 antigen bispecific monoclonal antibody that redirects T-cell mediated lysis toward malignant cells expressing Claudin 6. Claudin 6 is a tight-junction protein target and is particularly enriched in ovarian and endometrial tumors. The combination of precision medicine and immunotherapy is designed to directly target tumors while not harming normal tissue.
As excitement and innovation in the field continues to build, Lehr and other Biotech Showcase panelists expressed optimism for near-term and long-term progress in bringing advanced therapies and transformative technology to the women's health sector.
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