BMS Supports $96M Launch for Neurodegenerative Newcomer Cajal (Updated)


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With $96 million in Series A financing, Cajal Neuroscience launched Tuesday to develop drug candidates to treat neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The Seattle, WA-based biotech’s platform combines human genetics and multi-omics, functional genomics and whole-brain imaging to pinpoint potential drug targets.

Investors include The Column Group, Lux Capital, Bristol Myers Squibb and others. 

A Cajal spokesperson told BioSpace that the company's goal is to determine how, where and when the hundreds of genetic signals and numerous pathways implicated in idiopathic neurodegeneration contribute to disease. 

To do this, Cajal's researchers use "advanced computational genetic techniques to identify the precise mechanism by which genetic variation mediates disease," the spokesperson said. 

The company’s namesake is Santiago Ramón y Cajal, whose studies in the late 1800s formed the basis for what researchers know about the brain and how it functions today. 

“The legendary neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal said that all outstanding work, in art as well as science, results from immense zeal applied to a great idea. That’s precisely why we raced to fund this team,” said Josh Wolfe, co-founder and managing partner at Lux Capital in a statement.  

Wolfe added that when leading scientific minds team up, “you don’t walk slowly toward it - you sprint for your life.” 

Just as Spanish scientist Cajal formed a team of students and colleagues to assist him in his work, Cajal Neurosciences has formed its own team.

Cofounders include Ignacio Muñoz-Sanjuán, former VP of translational biology at CHDI Foundation, Ian Peikon, a venture partner at Lux Capital and Andrew Dervan, who previously led cell therapy business development at Celgene/BMS.

Still, Cajal will have to overcome myriad challenges if it wants to see success. The neurodegenerative space has seen its share of failures recently, the most notable of which revolves around the beta-amyloid theory in Alzheimer's.  

Biogen’s Aduhelm (aducanumab-avwa) has been swathed in controversy since its approval in 2021. 

On Monday, a second patient death was reportedly linked to Biogen's next Alzheimer's drug, lecanemab, which it is developing with Eisai. This came only two weeks after Roche announced that its beta-amyloid treatment failed to meet the primary endpoint in two Phase III studies.

With theories about the root cause of neurodegeneration coming into question, some researchers believe it’s necessary to go back to the drawing board.

According to Rob Hershberg, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder and executive chairman of the board at Cajal, this could be the company's opportunity to step in. 

“We want to get to the ground truth of neurodegenerative diseases,” Hershberg said. 

The company did not indicate when it plans to enter the clinic. BioSpace has reached out to Cajal for comment and will update this story accordingly. 

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