Bay Area's E-Scape Bio Bursts Out of Stealth Mode With $63 Million to Tackle Alzheimer's

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By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO – New Bay Area startup E-Scape Bio emerged from stealth mode armed with $63 million in Series A financing that will be used to develop small-molecule drugs to target the inherited genetic drivers of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

The company has been backed by venture capital from big pharma, including OrbiMed, Novo Holding A/S, Johnson & Johnson Innovation (JJDC), Novartis Venture Fund and Osage University Partners. Additional investors include Lilly Asia Ventures and Sutter Hill Ventures.

E-Scape Bio was founded by Robert Mahley and Yadong Huang, both scientists from the Gladstone Institutes, a California-based nonprofit biomedical research organization. Gladstone’s research is focused on several areas, including neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. E-Scape Bio uses the research the two men worked on at Gladstone to understand the role of Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) in the nervous system. Mahley and Huang are looking to link ApoE4—a variant of ApoE—to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease.

"The ApoE4 allele is not only the strongest genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer's disease, it is considered a driver of disease in patients with one or more copies of the allele," said Mahley, who is also president emeritus and senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes.

Huang, who is also a senior investigator at Gladstone, said the work he and Mahley have conducted demonstrates the “ApoE4 structure is the key to unlocking small molecules capable of targeting the most prominent genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease."

Many companies have tried and failed to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. There are about 5.5 million people in the United States and 15 million people worldwide who have been diagnosed with the dread disease. That number is expected to grow to about 75 million by 2030 due, in part, to the lack of effective treatments. In total, there are about 50 million people suffering from some form of dementia worldwide. Cost for treating Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are staggering and expected to hit $1 trillion by 2050. Many companies are chasing neurodegenerative targets such as amyloid plaque and tau proteins, but so far have come up lacking. Because of the failure of so many drug candidates, including the more recent Phase III failure of Eli Lilly ’s solanezumab that targeted beta-amyloid plaque, the market share for treating Alzheimer’s is about $20 billion. That’s got many companies, including Lilly, Biogen and Acadia Pharmaceuticals , vying for a slice of the pie.

E-Scape Bio joins the Alzheimer’s pack by focusing on genetic targets. Another Bay Area company, Denali Therapeutics, which was founded by former Genentech alums, is also looking at the genetic roots of the disease.

Researchers continue to determine risk-factors for Alzheimer’s, which E-Scape said includes carrying the ApoE4 gene. The genetic factor is associated with earlier onset of disease progression, and is the strongest prognostic factor for Alzheimer's, E-Scape said. But, it’s targeting the genetic driver of Alzheimer’s that has drawn the big-named investors, said Leon Chen, interim chief executive officer of E-Scape Bio and a partner at OrbiMed Advisors.

"We believe we have a solution for these challenging genetic targets that clearly have a role in the progression of these diseases, and will apply our resources to rapidly build our pipeline and advance towards the clinic,” Chen said in a statement.

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