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Forbion-backed biotech Progentos debuts with $65M for MS drug

Forbion, a well-known backer of life sciences startups, is leading an investment round for a newly launched biotechnology company focused on diseases that affect nerve cells.

The company, Progentos Therapeutics, has raised $65 million through a Series A financing that also involved Alta Partners, Mission BioCapital, Longwood Fund and Dolby Family Ventures. Progentos says the money will go toward expanding its pipeline and pushing a potential treatment for multiple sclerosis through “proof of concept” testing.

Progentos acquired its multiple sclerosis drug from Frequency Therapeutics, a spinout from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Formed about 10 years ago, Frequency was built around discoveries from the labs of Bob Langer at MIT and Jeffrey Karp at Harvard University. The startup went public in 2019. But after its main asset — an experimental therapy for hearing loss — disappointed in clinical testing, Frequency laid off about half its staff and later entered a reverse merger with RNA editing company Korro Bio.

Frequency’s drug fits into Progentos’ broader aim, which is to develop new kinds of small molecule medicines that replace the myelin sheath, or the protective layer of fats and proteins that normally surround the nerves. In “demyelinating” diseases like multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks these layers, leading to inflammation and impaired nerve cell function.

Progentos claims that, based on animal models, its molecules appear to “outperform previous approaches” generating the cells that create and maintain myelin. Other biotechs like Atara Biotherapeutics and Zenas BioPharma, as well as large pharmaceutical firms like Sanofi, Roche and Merck KGaA, have been trying to develop their own next-generation treatments for multiple sclerosis, to various degrees of success.

“While there are many treatments that are highly effective at slowing the progression of disease, there is a significant unmet need for new approaches that can regenerate myelin and restore function for patients with MS,” said Chris Loose, Progentos’ CEO, in that Monday statement announcing the company’s launch and new funding.

Loose co-founded Progentos alongside Sanjay Magavi, a former Vertex Pharmaceuticals researcher who is now serving as the startup’s chief scientific officer. Loose also co-founded Frequency, where Magavi served as a vice president of discovery biology.

With the Progentos investment, Forbion is deploying more of a warchest accumulated over the past couple years. In 2022, the Netherlands-based venture capital firm completed a fund of about $500 million — money earmarked to support the growth of biotechs whose work had reached more advanced stages. Then, in 2023, it closed out an $820 million fund directed at new companies in early stages of development.

Forbion lists nearly 50 companies in its portfolio, including Aiolos Bio and Mariana Oncology, both of which were acquired in deals this year with GSK and Novartis, respectively.

Shares of another Forbion-backed company, Dyne Therapeutics, spiked Monday morning after the disclosure of positive, albeit early, clinical data for two drugs designed to treat different forms of muscular dystrophy.