In the past decade, several big pharma firms have shuttered or dramatically downsized their neuroscience drug-discovery efforts. But recent launches and fundraising suggest that private investors are still eager for new strategies to treat neurodegenerative diseases. Since the beginning of June, three start-ups have raised a total of more than $220 million to develop small-molecule drugs that protect or regenerate brain tissue.
San Diego–based Autobahn Therapeutics launched with $76 million in series B financing to develop therapies for multiple sclerosis and adrenomyeloneuropathy, diseases in which nerves lose their protective myelin sheath. Autobahn’s lead drug candidate is designed to stimulate remyelination by activating thyroid hormone receptors in the brain. Biogen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Pfizer Ventures contributed to the fundraising.
Seattle-based Athira Pharma raised $85 million in series B financing to test its lead drug candidate, NDX-1017, for Alzheimer’s disease in a Phase II/III clinical study. The drug is designed to regenerate brain tissue by activating hepatocyte growth factor and its receptor, MET. Athira recently tested NDX-1017 in a Phase I trial.
And Prilenia Therapeutics, based in Israel and the Netherlands, launched with $62.5 million in series A financing to conduct clinical trials of pridopidine in amyotrophic laterial sclerosis and Huntington’s disease. The compound stimulates the sigma-1 receptor, which triggers production of a neuroprotective protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries stopped developing the drug in 2018, and Prilenia acquired it. The start-up’s co-founder and CEO, Michael Hayden, was Teva’s head of global R&D before he retired in a corporate shake-up in 2017.