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Nocion, chasing GSK, pulls in $62M for chronic cough drug

Investors have poured $62 million into a biotechnology startup developing a drug to treat chronic cough.

Nocion Therapeutics, headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts, announced Monday it completed a Series B fundraise that was co-led by Arkin Bio Capital and Monograph Capital and included participation from Canaan Partners, F-Prime Capital and others. The company has now raised $122 million since its launch in 2018.

Nocion is developing small molecule drugs that, as its name suggests, target “nociceptors,” sensory neurons that respond to the environment. Activation of those neurons can result in pain, itching or coughs. Nocion’s medicines are designed to silence them, a strategy it believes could help treat a range of conditions.

The company’s lead drug is an experimental, inhalable therapy called taplucanium. It’s being tested in people with chronic cough, a type of cough that lasts for more than eight weeks. A Phase 1 study completed in 2022. Nocion will use its latest funds to start a Phase 2b study in refractory chronic cough, a persistent cough that doesn’t have a clear cause and can’t be relieved by treating whatever’s thought to be the underlying condition. The company also said in a statement it will begin preparations for a late-stage study.

In targeting refractory chronic cough, Nocion is chasing after medicines owned by larger drugmakers. Merck & Co. developed a drug known as gefapixant that succeeded in testing but was twice rejected by the Food and Drug Administration due to questions about its effectiveness. GSK acquired a similar type of medicine when it bought Bellus Health for $2 billion last year. Results from a Phase 3 study of GSK’s drug are expected in 2025.

Both of those therapies work differently than taplucanium, instead targeting a receptor called P2X3.

“There is a real need for novel treatments beyond P2X3 antagonists and we believe that Nocion’s inhaled taplucanium has the potential to become a novel treatment modality for refractory chronic cough patients,” said Pini Orbach, the head of pharma at Arkin Bio.

Nocion is led by Richard Batycky, the former founder of Civitas Therapeutics, a startup Acorda Therapeutics acquired in 2014 and that developed the Parkinson’s disease therapy Inbrija. Its technology was licensed from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital.