With $54 Million in Hand, Startup CuraSen Takes Aim at Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s

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San Mateo, Calif.-based startup CuraSen Therapeutics surged forward this morning with $54.5 million in Series A funding and a leadership team that includes executives from Afferent Pharmaceuticals, a company acquired by Merck in 2016 for $1.2 billion.

CuraSen will use the financing to develop treatments for less common neurodegenerative disorders as well as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. The company’s drugs are designed to activate certain (unspecified) receptor populations in the brain to compensate for critical neuronal and glial functions that have otherwise been lost due to degeneration. CuraSen said targeting those receptors will allow for the alleviation of disabling symptoms associated with the diseases that include cognition, executive function, and motor and autonomic dysfunction. Key research in the field was advanced by company co-founder Mehrdad Shamloo, a professor of neuroscience and neurosurgery at Stanford University. CuraSen anticipates taking its first program into the clinic by the end of next year.

Shamloo said the company has demonstrated in a number of Alzheimer’s disease models that restoring certain functionality in the brain results in “a profound effect in this disease, including significant improvement in learning and memory with both acute and chronic treatment, significant reductions in amyloid plaque and tau pathology, and a significant reduction in inflammatory gene expression."

The financing round was led by New Leaf Venture Partners and supported by other investors such as Longitude Capital, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Tekla Capital Management LLC and Pappas Capital.

With financing in hand, CuraSen named co-founder Anthony Ford as its chief executive officer. Ford was co-founder and chief scientific officer of Afferent Pharmaceuticals, a company developing P2X3 antagonists for other neurogenic disorders when it was acquired by Merck. P2X3 receptors are associated with sensitization of sensory nerves, particularly C-fiber adherents.

Ford said there is an “urgent need” for new medications that target Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other uncommon neurodegenerative diseases. Ford noted that Shamloo’s research, combined with “post-mortem pathobiology and epidemiology” provides a compelling support through the targeting of this mechanism.

“This financing allows us to build an industry-leading team and company to address a number of these diseases for which no effective treatments are available. CuraSen expects to advance its first program to the clinic by the end of 2019,” Ford said in a statement.

In addition to naming Ford as CEO, the company also named co-founder Kathleen Sereda Glaub as executive chairperson of the company’s board of directors. Glaub previously served as chief executive officer of Afferent. The board of directors was rounded out with the additions of Ford; Liam Ratcliffe, the managing director of New Leaf Venture; Patrick Enright, managing director of Longitude Capital; and Henry Skinner, senior vice president of Tekla Capital Management.

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