Bay Area's BlackThorn Therapeutics Comes Out of Stealth Mode With $40 Million to Push New Neuroscience Drugs Into Trials

Published: Oct 20, 2016

Bay Area's BlackThorn Therapeutics Comes Out of Stealth Mode With $40 Million to Push New Neuroscience Drugs into Trials October 20, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

South San Francisco – BlackThorn Therapeutics announced that it had closed on a Series A financing round worth $40 million. The round was led by ARCH Venture Partners and supported by Johnson & Johnson InnovationJJDC, as well as Altitude Life Science Ventures, Mercury Fund, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, and an undisclosed crossover fund.

Blackthorn is working in the difficult area of neurological and psychological diseases. Its lead drug, BTRX-246040, was licensed from Eli Lilly and Co. . At Lilly, it had failed two clinical trials, which led to Lilly essentially abandoning the neuroscience development area.

“The risk associated with drug development in this arena has always been driven by lumping a lot of conditions together,” Mark Corrigan, the company’s executive chairman, told the San Francisco Business Times.

As reported by Xconomy, “This year alone, antipsychotic drugs developed by Alkermes , Intra-Cellular Therapies , and the now-defunct FORUM Pharmaceuticals have failed Phase III trials, and all three cited a high level of placebo effect in the control group as a significant problem.”

And most psychiatric disorders lack reliable biological markers—they’re usually diagnosed with symptoms. And as a result, a clinical trial’s results are based on observations of mood or behavior, often with a doctor using a standardized questionnaire.

“There is no such toolkit for [neurobehavioral diseases] yet,” Scott Forrest, BlackThorn’s vice president of corporate development told Xconomy. “It’s emerging from clinical research.”

But BlackThorn, which spun out of Scripps Research Institute in 2013, thinks the time might be ripe. It has a technology platform called INFORM, which, according to the company, “supports the discovery and development of targeted treatments by linking brain physiology to behavior using advanced functional imaging and objective assessment tools that quantify emotion, behavior and cognition while relying less on traditional qualitative clinical observations.” Which sounds a lot like questionnaires tied into some sort of brain imaging technology.

Its lead program, BTRX-246060, is a first-in-class antagonist of the nociception receptor (NOPR), which has been tied to several neurobehavioral disorders. It is currently starting Phase II clinical trials. BlackThorn also has a pipeline of small molecules for other neurological disorders.

BTRX-246060 has been evaluated in approximately 200 people, and is projected to start mid-stage trials in 2017. The company also plans to start another compound in an early-stage trial late next year in patients with bipolar disorder and other conditions.

BlackThorn currently has 13 employees and 20 contractors. It indicates it plans to double in size—whether that means 26 employees or 66 is not clear—and it is currently searching for a chief executive officer. The company is currently located in Johnson & Johnson ’s JLabs incubator space in South San Francisco, but is looking for a permanent site in San Francisco.

The company is currently being led by Mark Corrigan. Prior to BlackThorn, Corrigan was chief executive officer of Zalicus, and executive vice president of Research and Development at Sepracor. He is serves on the boards of CoLucid , Cardiome, Quartet and Nabriva.

Bill Martin is the company’s chief scientific officer. He was previously executive director at Theravance Biopharma. Annette Madrid is BlackThorn’s chief medical officer. She was the chief medical officer at Balance Therapeutics and Jazz Pharmaceuticals . Scott Forrest is the vice president of operations and corporate development. He was previously vice president of business at The Scripps Research Institute.

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