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The Ovarian Contraceptive Discovery Initiative

A significant barrier to discovering novel contraceptive agents that target ovulation and fertilization-associated processes is a lack of robust systems for exploring the biology of these processes in a sophisticated manner, particularly with respect to target validation and translational potential.

The Ovarian Contraceptive Discovery Initiative supports the development and deployment of an integrated platform for the systematic study of ovarian biology with the purpose of delivering a robust and optimized series of follicle- and oocyte-focused contraceptive targets, pathways, and screening tools.  This comprehensive and enduring biological platform is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's broader efforts in female contraceptive discovery. 


Institute Structure


 The Ovarian Contraceptive Discovery Initiative is multi-PI and institutional endeavor. Francesca Duncan, PhD is the overall program PI, and she leads the Project Management & Technology Dissemination Core. Under this framework are four projects led by PIs: Shuo Xiao, PhD (Rutgers University), Francesca E. Duncan, PhD (Northwestern University), Amander Clark, PhD (UCLA), Britt Goods, PhD (Dartmouth College), and Alex Shalek, PhD (Ragon Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital). In addition to these projects, Sami Farhi, PhD from the Broad Institute has led a pilot on spatial transcriptomics of ovulation. Central to the Ovarian Contraceptive Discovery Initiative is interaction with the following institutional and community following partners: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, Rutgers University, Northwestern University and the Northwestern Center for Reproductive Science, UCLA, Ragon Institute, Micrographia Bio, Exscientia, ReFRAME Calibr at Scripps Research, Schrödinger, Caltech, ApconiX, UIC, and Genomic Prediction.


Project Management & Technology Dissemination Core

Program PI

A headshot of Francesca DuncanFrancesca E. Duncan, PhD
Northwestern University, Associate Professor

Scientific Lead

A headshot of Jeff PeaJeff Pea, PhD
Northwestern University

Administrative Lead

A headshot of Lauren Ataman-Millhouse, MALauren Ataman-Millhouse, MA
Northwestern University

Scientific Adviser

A headshot of Richard M. Nelson, PhDRichard M. Nelson, PhD
Drug Discovery & Target Assessment


Project 1

A headshot of Shua Xiao, PhD




Organotypic Screening Tools and Targets in the Mouse Follicle

PI: Shuo Xiao, PhD, Rutgers University

Project 2

A headshot of Francesca Duncan




Harnessing the biology of oocyte maturation-specific pathways to identify novel targets for contraceptive development

PI: Francesca Duncan, PhD, Northwestern University

Project 3

A headshot of Amander Clark, PhD




Building mouse and human ovarian follicles de novo from induced pluripotent stem cells

PI: Amander Clark, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles

Project 4

A headshot of Alex Shalek, PhDA headshot of Britt Good 

Transcriptional changes driving follicle autonomous activation and ovulation for contraceptive discovery

PIs: Alex Shalek, PhD, Ragon Institute, & Britt Goods, PhD, Dartmouth College


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