Lilly, Merck and Bayer Back a New Composer for Autoimmune Therapies

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Mozart Therapeutics, based in Seattle, closed on a $55 million Series A financing round. It was led by ARCH Venture Partners, the seed financier, along with Sofinnova Partners. Additional investors were Eli Lilly and Company, MRL Ventures Fund, an early-stage fund run by Merck & Co., Leaps by Bayer, Altitude Life Science Ventures, and Alexandria Venture Investments.

The company was founded in 2020 and focuses on developing treatments for celiac disease and other immune-related conditions. The company expects to use the money to advance its lead compound through preclinical studies into the clinic for celiac disease. It hopes to begin clinical trials by 2024.

The company was built on research from the laboratory of Mark Davis, Ph.D., who co-founded it. Davis is a professor at Stanford University and head of the university’s Institute for Immunity, Transplantation, and Infection. Davis’s work focuses on regulatory CD8 T-cells, which might prevent or fight multiple sclerosis and celiac disease. They act by suppressing disease-causing immune cells. They also have the potential to treat type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.

“We have an opportunity to really do something different in autoimmune and inflammatory disease,” said Katie Fanning, the company’s chief executive officer. She was previously the chief executive officer of Seattle-based Nohla Therapeutics.

Fanning stated, “Mozart is doing something truly unique to change the treatment paradigm for patients with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. We aim to reset and restore the immune system balance by leveraging a novel pathway to develop first-in-class CD8 Treg modulators as disease-modifying therapeutics to address an unmet need across a spectrum of diseases.”

Mozart also formed a scientific advisory board. It includes Davis; K. Christopher Garcia, Ph.D., scientific co-founder, professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology and Structural Biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; Calvin Kuo, M.D., Ph.D., scientific co-founder, Maureen Lyles D’Ambrogio professor of Medicine (Hematology) at Stanford; and Michael Rosenblum, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Dermatology and vice chair of Research at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

“Modulating the CD8 T reg network represents a novel way to tackle a root cause of immune system dysregulation,” said Steve Gillis, Ph.D., managing director of ARCH Venture Partners and chairman of the Mozart board of directors. “We are pleased to support the advancement of Mozart’s innovative research that may hold promise to significantly impact the course of a wide range of disease.”

The company’s leadership team includes Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Kristine Swiderek, previously senior vice president of research at Alpine Immune Sciences, and Dr. Courtney Crane, vice president of discovery and translational science. Previously, Crane was an associate professor at the University of Washington and an investigator at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Currently, the company has 13 people but plans to bolster its research arm and hire staff in product development and other areas.

“Our lab space right now works and it supports our long-range plans,” Fanning told GeekWire. They are currently set up near Seattle’s waterfront with Sonoma Biotherapeutics and other biotech tenants. But Fanning is already looking for a future site. “We’re going to get to a point of critical mass where we’re going to need more space.”

Other companies are studying regulatory T cells, such as Egle Therapeutics, TRex Bio, Avotres, and GentiBio. However, Mozart focuses on regulatory CD8 T cells, which appears to be a unique approach. They are developing bispecific compounds that target cells while also inhibiting KIR molecules on the cell surface.

They chose the name Mozart, Fanning says, because they are “orchestrating a novel regulatory network to restore immune balance.”

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