Speed Reads

adventures in medicine

Antiva wants to help treat cervical cancer. Most male investors aren't interested.

A young pharmaceutical startup wants to develop a groundbreaking new treatment for a relatively common cancer. Yet it struggles to find funding.

That's because the startup in question is Antiva Biosciences, and the cancer it aims to treat is cervical cancer. Stat reported Thursday on the company's struggles to attract investment, as well as its constant fight to receive buy-in from male doctors, quoting Antiva's top executives discussing frankly their perceptions of the problem: "It's very safe to say that we got more traction in [venture capital] firms where there was a woman partner who was in a decision-making role," Antiva CEO Gail Maderis told Stat.

Antiva's proposal is to replace the most common treatment prescribed for women who develop the precancerous cervical lesions that result from being infected with HPV, which is surgery. The operation removes the lesions by "essentially cutting off the tip of the cervix," Stat reports. The surgery has proven effective in eradicating the problem cells, but "women of childbearing age who undergo the surgery may later have difficulty conceiving, recurrent miscarriages, and preterm delivery," Stat explains.

Antiva says about 500,000 women undergo this procedure every year. Instead of surgery, the company is proposing a topical treatment that patients can administer themselves. But the reception has been lukewarm: Maderis told Stat of how one prospective male investor who appeared unenthused during Maderis' pitch. But after their meeting, he called Maderis to explain how his wife had pressed him to investigate the deal further after he'd told her about the company's mission.

One man, David Kabakoff, did invest in Antiva through his firm. His team has been calling gynecologists to glean their reactions to the topical treatment. "The trend was unmistakable," Stat wrote: "Male physicians tended to express skepticism ... Female physicians tended to say new treatment options are badly needed." Read more about Antiva at Stat.