Biotech Startup Bonanza Continues as Disarm Therapeutics Emerges With $30 Million
Published: Sep 20, 2017
September 19, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Cambridge, Mass. – Disarm Therapeutics launched with a $30 million Series A financing. The round was led by Atlas Venture, with co-investors Lightstone Ventures and AbbVie Ventures.
Co-founded, seeded and incubated last year by Atlas Venture, Jeffrey Milbrandt and Aaron DiAntonio of Washington University in St. Louis, Disarm focuses on development treatments for neurological diseases by preventing axonal degeneration. Milbrandt and DiAntonio published an article about six months ago in Neuron that showed that the SARM1 protein is the central driver of axonal degeneration. SARM1 has an intrinsic enzymatic activity that can be targeted by therapeutics, which means they might be able to develop drugs to slow or halt axonal degeneration, which would have numerous applications in diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, glaucoma and peripheral neuropathies.
“Using our proprietary product engine, the Disarm team has discovered novel, potent SARM1 inhibitors,” said Rajesh Devraj, Disarm’s co-founder and chief science officer, in a statement. “We plan to translate these potential therapeutics to human proof of concept in a range of neurological diseases, supported by non-invasive biomarkers.”
John Carroll, with Endpoints News, writes, “The scientific exploration goes back to 2012, Rhodes [Jason Rhodes, Atlas Ventures partner] tells me, so by the time he got involved in the company-building effort the two investigators were already well down the road on the discovery work, examining the role of an active enzyme in attacking axons.”
“The goal is to reduce the rate of decay, stabilize it,” Rhodes told Carroll. “You can actually reverse and recover damaged axons.”
A possible approach is, for example, in patients with MS. If Disarm can develop an effective therapeutic, it could be added to standard of care treatment, which potentially could cut the intensity and frequency of the secondary flare-ups that cause damage to the brain. “Most get secondary progressive disease,” Rhodes told Carroll, “which is defined by a loss of axonal volume.”
Disarm’s scientific advisory board includes Milbrandt, chair, Department of Genetics, professor of Genetics, Pathology and Immunology, Medicine, and Neurology, at Washington University; DiAntonio, professor of Developmental Biology, Washington University; Peter Calabresi, professor of Neurology and Neuroscience, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center, and director, Division of Neuroimmunology and Neurological Infections, Johns Hopkins University; Robert Copeland, president, CSO and co-founder, Accent Therapeutics; Gehard Koenix, president and CEO, Quartet Medicine; Alfred Sandrock, executive vice president and chief medical officer, Biogen ; and Steven Scherer, professor of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania.
The company’s board of directors includes Rhodes as chairman, Devraj, Jean George, General Partner of Lightstone Ventures, Milbrandt, Sandrock, Scott Brun, vice president of Scientific Affairs and head of AbbVie Ventures, and DiAntonio.
“One of the main goals was to de-risk the biology in a human neuronal cell culture, look at damage after an acute insult,” Devraj told Carroll. “That gave us a lot of confidence.”
The company has licensed the rights to key SARM1 discoveries from Washington University in St. Louis. Devraj indicates that the company hopes to establish intellectual property (IP) for a broad portfolio based on the SARM1 mechanisms of action.