Infertility, fibroids and endometriosis: Womed, a start-up at women's bedside

Housed at the Centre d'innovation et transfert (CIT) and in partnership with the Institut de biomolécules Max Mousseron (IBMM), start-up Womed is pursuing the development and marketing of its first product, the Womed Leaf medical device, which aims to prevent the formation of intra-uterine adhesions. Already the winner of numerous awards, the company is currently working on new technologies capable of treating fibroids, endometriosis and uterine bleeding.

It's the story of a small company that's growing, growing, growing... On the premises of the Centre d'innovation et transfert du pôle chimie Balard(research building), Womed is in the process of reaching an important milestone. Founded in 2018 under the umbrella of the University of Montpellier, CNRS, Montpellier School of Chemistry, SATT AxLR and Nîmes University Hospital, this start-up has just raised €6 million to develop and market Womed Leaf. This innovative medical device uses a polymer film as a uterine dressing to prevent the formation of synechiae (or adhesions) and the infertility problems they can cause. Based on polymer technology developed in partnership with IBMM's Polymers for Health and Biomaterials department, this device could soon evolve into a sustained-release drug delivery system for the long-term treatment of various uterine pathologies...

Adhesions that reform in almost half of all cases

Entering production in early 2024 after several years of promising studies and tests, Womed Leaf is the fruit of a three-headed discovery. Stéphanie Huberlant (CHU de Nîmes), Salomé Leprince (R&D manager Womed) and Xavier Garric (UM/CHU de Nîmes) have been working on this polymer since 2013. At the time, their ambition was to reduce the risk of synechiae formation, the uterine adhesions that affect almost 500,000 women a year worldwide. " Synechia is a kind of spider's web that forms in the uterus, usually after surgery, and disrupts the normal functioning of the uterus," explains Xavier Garric. In short, they increase the risk of infertility, miscarriage and even intrauterine pregnancy, but they can also complicate menstruation. And despite the possibility of reducing them surgically, these adhesions reform in almost half of all cases. All in all, a real nuisance that the medical world has been unable to curb until now.

Patented back in 2016, the ultra-innovative device from Womed's founders was developed in collaboration with the gynecology department at Nîmes University Hospital. Composed of a polymer film capable of hugging the uterine wall, Womed Leaf unfolds almost instantaneously on contact with the mucous membranes. "Adhesions form in the first week after the operation. Until now, we used a hyaluronic acid gel, but its effect was far too short before it turned into a solution. Womed leaf remains in place for at least a week to act as a mechanical anti-adhesion barrier, before evacuating naturally", explains the researcher.

Significant clinical improvement

Founded in February 2018 by Gonzague Issenmann, Xavier Garric and Stéphanie Huberlant the start-up quickly conquered the scientific and medical ecosystem. That same year, the team won the I-Lab Grand Prix, with an envelope of several hundred thousand euros up for grabs. This considerable boost enabled the company to hire its first three employees and carry out all the necessary tests. In 2021, shortly after obtaining CE marking (European certification), Womed will launch an international, randomized "multicenter" study on 154 patients, designed to demonstrate its efficacy in several gynecology departments treating the most severe cases of synechia throughout the world.

On this occasion, the device traveled to Holland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, China... And the results - obtained in January 2024 - turned out to be "excellent". "We showed that women were 2.4 times more likely to have no adhesions when using the medical device after a cure. Womed Leaf is therefore the first intra-uterine barrier to show clinically significant improvement in this complex indication", summarizes Xavier Garric. Already in use in the university hospitals of Nîmes and Montpellier, this device could soon conquer the various gynecology departments in France and Europe, before setting its sights on the USA as early as 2025.

Fibroids, bleeding, endometriosis

But Gonzague Issenmann, Xavier Garric and all Womed employees are already thinking about what's next. "We've gone back into R&D to create an intra-uterine delivery system," explains the researcher. This time, the objective goes far beyond a simple "mechanical" dressing. The device could in fact transport and diffuse molecules over a prolonged period. The idea? Short-term treatment of fibroids, followed by uterine bleeding and endometriosis.

"Some orally administered drugs have significant side effects, and their systemic efficacy is not sufficient. This system could enable us to solve such problems. The aim here is to enable our device to withstand several months to release effective concentrations of medication, while adapting to patients' needs", adds Xavier Garric. Hence the importance of this funding round, which will enable the team to continue exploring this astonishing material. " In biotech, the sums at stake are much greater", confirms the co-founder of this company, freshly crowned by the highly selectiveEuropean Innovation Council prize last March. An opportunity to prove, if proof were needed, that this technological feat was right on target.