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Neurona raises another $120M for brain disease cell therapies

Dive Brief:

  • Neurona Therapeutics, a San Francisco-based biotechnology company, has raised another $120 million to fuel its research into cell therapies for brain diseases.
  • Neurona plans to use the money to continue developing a slate of experimental, “off-the-shelf” cell therapies. The company’s most advanced medicine is in an small, open-label study evaluating it as a potential treatment for a common kind of epilepsy. Neurona believes the therapy, NRTX-1001, may also be useful in Alzheimer’s disease as well as other nervous system disorders.
  • Viking Global Investors and Cormorant Asset Management co-led Neurona’s latest fundraise, which saw participation from both new and existing investors, including The Column Group, the healthcare-focused venture firm that launched the biotech in 2015.

Dive Insight:

Neurona was founded in 2008 by a team of high-profile researchers from the University of California, San Francisco.

Like many startups, it has an ambitious goal. Not only is the company trying to create treatments for brain and nervous system diseases — a notoriously difficult area of drug development — but it’s attempting to do so through complex cellular medicines. Specifically, Neurona’s research revolves around so-called allogeneic therapies, which are made by harvesting stem cells from a donor rather than the patient.

Neurona officially launched in late 2015, backed by a $24 million Series A round led by The Column Group. To date, the company has raised $285 million in private financing, according to a spokesperson.

“We are grateful for the significant investment from this reputable syndicate of new and existing investors,” Cory Nicholas, Neurona’s CEO, said in a statement announcing the $120 million fundraise. “It signifies the conviction that Neurona’s cell therapies have the potential to transform the treatment of previously refractory, devastating neurological disorders.”

At a medical meeting in December, Neurona presented early data from five participants in the ongoing study of NRTX-1001. Two of these patients received the therapy more than a year prior, while three were treated more recently and have been followed by researchers for a few months. While one patient has yet to respond — Neurona claims its therapy can take five to seven months before showing “maximum efficacy” — the other four have experienced substantial reductions in their monthly number of seizures.

Neurona says its new funding will go, in part, to current and planned clinical studies of NRTX-1001.

The company’s haul is the latest signifier that brain drugs are recapturing the interest of large pharmaceutical firms and investors after years of being passed over for other areas of research.

Last August, Rapport Therapeutics, a precision drug startup backed by Johnson & Johnson, raised $150 million through a Series B round led by Cormorant. Shortly after, MapLight Therapeutics, also a San Francisco-based biotech, brought in $225 million to support the development of an experimental medicine it believes holds promise in treating schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease psychosis.

And just last week, Alto Neuroscience raised around $130 million through an initial public offering — a notable achievement, given how a prolonged downturn in the biotech stock market has made going public much more challenging for many young drugmakers. The company aims to develop therapies for central nervous system diseases, with its most advanced programs targeting depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.