Under the Microscope: Uqora

Why Avestria Invested in this UTI-Focused Startup

In this series, we explain why we invested in our current portfolio companies. In the process, we hope to highlight the white spaces in women’s health and the life sciences — as well as the people, products, and companies working to fill those gaps. The name “Under the Microscope” refers both to our extensive due diligence process and our investment focus on healthcare and the life sciences.

“I’ve been there — stuck in the awful cycle of UTIs. In 2014, I had 8 UTIs,” Uqora’s Co-Founder and CEO Jenna Ryan writes on Uqora’s “Our Story” webpage.

Jenna is not alone. Defined as an infection in any part of an individual’s urinary system — which includes kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra —urinary tract infections (UTIs) were the most common outpatient infection in 2019 and the second most common infection (behind the common cold) in the U.S

Yet, unlike Jenna, most people don’t talk about their UTIs.

While talking about urinary health can be embarrassing as is, women face additional challenges. Because UTIs can occur after sexual intercourse and because having a new sexual partner can increase your risk, women who suffer from UTIs may be hesitant to seek needed treatment because they’re worried about external judgment

The cost of stigmatizing — and, thus, not discussing — UTIs is high.

Despite common perception, sexual intercourse isn’t the only way to get a UTI. UTIs can result from feeling stressed, swimming in a lake, or having a profession — like ambulance driver or teacher — that doesn’t allow for bathroom breaks as needed. Women though do remain the most commonly affected: 12% of men will have at least one UTI in their life while 50%-60% of adult women will.

UTI symptoms lead to an estimated 10 million office visits, 3 million emergency room visits, and more than $1.6 billon per year. They can also lead to additional complications such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Beyond healthcare costs, UTIs also have societal ones, such as missed work, decreased quality of life due to pain, and even anxiety or depression. In an interview with Forbes, Jenna Ryan added that her own experiences with UTIs were cyclical: she either had a UTI or “was stressed about when the next UTI might hit.”

Inspired by her own experiences, Jenna Ryan and her partner Spencer Gordon co-founded Uqora to improve urinary tract health.

In 2015, when Uqora was founded, effective UTI options were lacking. Though cranberry juice is often touted as beneficial to urinary health, a 2015 study published in JAMA stated that “the results have been inconsistent” for clinical trials evaluating cranberry products for UTI prevention, and that the “efficacy [of cranberry products], if any, remains unknown after almost 100 years.” Tellingly, the study was titled: “Cranberry for Prevention of Urinary Tract Infection? Time to Move On.”

Uqora’s products address that gap: the company aims to help women get rid of their current UTIs through its line of UTI relief products and to take control of their health through its proactive urinary tract health supplements. The company’s website even offers a quiz so that women can find the product(s) that best suits their needs.

The company’s products include d-mannose, vitamin C, vitamin b6, calcium, magnesium and potassium: ingredients that have been FDA-approved for their ability to flush bacteria from the system, boost immune system function, and improve urinary health. For example, in one clinical trial, the group that took two grams of D-mannose supplementation (the same amount a single Uqora packet contains) were four times less likely to develop a UTI over the six-month trial period than those taking the control. Vitamin C has shown to decrease the risk of developing UTIs significantly while Vitamin B6 increases urination and urinary flow to help flush the bacteria from the urinary tract.

Uqora is continuing to grow rapidly

Since its launch, Uqora has helped over 100,000 people and has grown 14x its size in 2018 (when we first invested) and 5x in 2019.

Uqora’s number of products has grown as well. In addition to its Target , Control, and Promote offerings (which flush the urinary tract, cleanse the biofilm, and balance the vaginal microbiome respectively), Uqora recently launched three new products for those with active UTIs: Soothe (for symptom management), Combat (for infection control) and Clarify (an FDA-approved UTI diagnostic).

In September 2020, the company also announced that it is developing the first non-antibiotic drug for UTI treatment. 80%-90% of all urinary tract infections are caused by uropathogenic E. coli. Uqora’s new drug aims to limit the E. coli’s ability to replicate to suppress, but not eliminate, that bacterial growth. That way, the body can develop antibiotic resistance and proactively prevent repeat infections.

While we don’t usually invest in consumer-focused companies, Uqora caught our eye because it addresses an issue that affects women more than men (both in rate of infection and risk of personal stigma) and its products offer prevention and treatment: options that were otherwise lacking in the market. With its products, continued growth, and Jenna Ryan and Spencer Gordon’s leadership, guidance, and transparency, Uqora is improving women’s health not just physically but also socially by both addressing UTIs and ending the costly stigma around them.

At Avestria Ventures, we look for early-stage women’s health and female-led life science companies with products or technologies that improve healthcare quality and/or access, lower costs, induce clinical or behavioral change, are evidence based, have scalable commercialization plans, and have a sustainable competitive advantage. Know one? Contact us via our website, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

Investing in early-stage women’s health and female-led life sciences companies.

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