Charlottesville firm’s male contraception attracts investors
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A Charlottesville startup with big plans to change the world of male contraception has raised the money it needs to begin the long process of Food and Drug Administration approval.
Contraline, founded by University of Virginia graduate Kevin Eisenfrats and UVa professor of cell biology and biomedical engineering John Herr, raised $700,000 this spring to begin testing its product in rats, which will produce data it can present to the FDA.
The company procured funding from angel investor and UVa alum Mark Galant; Paris-based venture fund Kima Ventures; Felton Group, a fund managed by Jaffray Woodriff, CEO of Quantitative Investment Management; Philippe Sommer; William Stilley; and Charlottesville-based pharmaceutical processing company Afton Scientific.
Contraline also has been awarded a spot in the fellowship program of San Francisco Bay-area startup incubator Y Combinator, and a $20,000 investment from the incubator.
Furthermore, just last week Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced $50,000 in funding for the company through the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund program.
“This data is super important for us to go to the FDA and show our findings and start the whole approval process,” Eisenfrats said. “It also allows us to expand our team and hire professionals who are really experienced in the field.”
Eisenfrats began his work in the Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health, a lab at UVa founded by Herr. Eisenfrats made an immediate impression on Herr, who helped found Charlottesville biotech companies Neoantigenics, SpermCheck and Humagen Pipets.
″(Eisenfrats) is very unusual because he integrates the science and also the business and entrepreneurial stuff. You have to pay attention when somebody like this comes along,” Herr said. “For somebody at this stage at my career it is a delight and a pleasure to work with somebody like him.”
Galant provided money to found the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship at UVa. The founder of two capital investment firms, Galant was Contraline’s first outside investor.
“It’s a very large potential market space,” he said. “Male contraception doesn’t have very many options, certainly compared to female contraception.”
The FDA process, Eisenfrats said, likely will take four or five years, meaning Contraline might not be on the market until 2020.
The wait does not bother Galant.
“You have to get the type of investor who is willing to wait, and from my perspective I am willing to wait,” he said. “I do invest in a lot of other startups, and the other startups tend to come with a higher price tag, but this was very reasonably priced, but with a huge upside.”
Galant declined to say exactly how much he invested, but said he was the second-largest contributor to this round of funding. Whenever the next round of funding opens, Galant said, he will be ready with his checkbook.
“With any sort of startup there are risks, but if they can pull it off, I think the returns are going to be humongous,” he said.
As an undergrad, Eisenfrats, assisted by Herr, began working on an idea to inject an ultrasound-visible gel into the vas deferens, blocking sperm and negating the need for invasive surgery.
The gel, which Contraline calls Echo-V, is designed to be easily dissolved with an injected solution, but will otherwise be permanent. Ultrasound visibility allows doctors to easily make sure that the gel has remained in place.
There are currently only two effective means of birth control for men: condoms and vasectomy. Condoms are seen by some as inconvenient, and vasectomy is an uncomfortable surgical procedure that is hard to reverse.
“Across the board, people are interested,” Eisenfrats said. “I have talked to people in their 20s who want control over their reproductive health, and people who are their 30s in monogamous relationships and don’t want kids yet.”
In addition to the investments, Contraline will get a boost as Afton Scientific CEO Tom Thorpe is set to join the company’s board of directors.
“As a former entrepreneur, I am familiar with both the demands on a young leader and the organizational transitions that lie ahead as the enterprise grows,” Thorpe said. “As it relates to the product, Afton Scientific’s team can offer some specific engineering and regulatory support in the product’s development and the FDA’s approval process.”
The intensive approval process will give Eisenfrats and his team little time to rest over the next few years.
“My plans for the next five years are to make Contraline succeed. I will be working on this 100 percent of the time until we get FDA approval,” he said. “I was pre-med all through college, and I put med school on hold for Contraline. This is my calling and this is what I want to do.”