Yumanity Therapeutics, a neuroscience start-up launched in 2014 by high-profile founders, has raised $45 million in its first funding round. The investment endorses the company’s novel approach to tackling Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—diseases that are frustrating drug development at some of the world’s largest pharma firms.
The large influx of capital is an unusually “big raise” for a company still early in the discovery process, admits CEO Tony Coles, a biotech veteran who led Onyx Pharmaceuticals before Amgen acquired it for $10 billion.
Yumanity brings a “skilled, passionate team and unique strategy to targeting the underlying protein pathology of neurodegenerative diseases,” says Bernard Davitian, managing director of Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures. Sanofi invested in Yumanity along with Fidelity Investments, Redmile Group, Alexandria Venture Investments, Biogen, and Dolby Family Ventures.
Yumanity uses phenotypic screens in engineered yeast cells to identify small molecules that can correct disease-related protein misfolding. Resulting hits are then tested in human-stem-cell-derived neurons. The most promising get reanalyzed in yeast, using genetics to find the target. The technology originated in lab of MIT molecular biologist and Yumanity cofounder Susan Lindquist.
Coles and Lindquist initially funded Yumanity and also raised seed funding in 2015. The capital “represents a great success for us because we wanted to wait until we got the right investors,” which include a mix of institutional and corporate interests, Coles says.
Having validated its testing models, Yumanity will use the money to screen more compounds and identify disease targets. With so little known about the biology of the diseases, “one of the most important things for us to do is follow the science,” Coles says. He expects Yumanity to grow 50% this year to a total of 30 people, mostly scientists.