'New Kid on the Block' Libra Raises $29 Million to Tackle Neurodegenerative Diseases
With $29 million in their pocket, new biotech Libra Therapeutics launched Wednesday to take on neurodegenerative diseases. The company already has three pre-clinical programs ready roll, with its lead candidate targeting ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and FTD (frontotemporal dementia), both diseases without a cure. But Isaac Veinbergs, Ph.D., President and CEO of Libra, is dreaming even bigger. He’s looking to develop therapies for a wide range of these destructive diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s in the future.
“Knowing firsthand the devastating nature of neurodegenerative diseases, I made it not only a career choice, but a passion project, and now it has all come together in Libra Therapeutics. I look forward to building the team and advancing our programs that have the potential to change the trajectory of these diseases and truly help patients,” Veinbergs said.
Libra’s breakthrough science comes from leading Italian discovery organization, Axxam S.p.A., which provides proprietary chemical matter, cutting edge assays and drug discovery expertise. The central concept around their research is in harnessing the power of cellular autophagy – the body’s way of cleaning out cells – to fight the loss of function in the C9orf72 gene.
The mutation of the C9orf72 gene is the first genetic link ever found between FTD and ALS. When mutated, the gene repeats hundreds of times instead of the typical 20-30. Libra’s unique therapeutic platform is positioned to discover and develop drugs that can increase autophagy to rapidly clear out toxic proteins and diminish the production of neurotoxic proteins.
"Libra Therapeutics takes a unique approach to tackling neurodegenerative diseases with two distinct but complementary approaches that target key pathways that drive neurodegeneration," said Martín Heidecker, Ph.D., Managing Director, BIVF USA. "By modulating scientifically and genetically validated targets to decrease neurotoxic proteins, there’s a clearly defined development path with translational and clinical biomarkers."
BIVF, Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, along with Epidarax Capital and Santé co-led the Series A financing that gave Libra its start. Additional participants included Yonjin Venture, Dolby Family Ventures and Sixty Degree Capital. The financing will be used to build Libra’s team and advance their pipeline of drug candidates.
"We are delighted to have played a key role in the creation and funding of Libra Therapeutics as well as co-leading the financing. The science behind the company is outstanding and has enabled the recruitment of a highly experienced executive and an exceptional international investor syndicate," said Henning Steinhagen, Ph.D., Venture Partner, Epidarex Capital. "By bringing together these key components, Libra Therapeutics has a highly differentiated platform to generate novel therapies that aim to improve the lives of patients with neurodegenerative diseases."
Libra is hoping to do just that – improve lives affected by these debilitating diseases, rather than only delaying inevitable disease progression, which is the primary option for patients right now. Libra's other two preclinical programs focus less on the autophagy of cells and more on the neurotoxic protein production. These programs are currently working with animal models.
“We realize that this is an extremely challenging area, neurodegeneration as a whole,” Veinbergs said. “Having very good starting points from the chemistry perspective, from the capabilities perspective, I think gives us an edge on trying to progress these programs to where people have not had a lot of success.”