Civitas Scores $38M Series B For Parkinson’s Drug Push

Xconomy Boston — 

Civitas Therapeutics’ Parkinson’s disease drug got a second vote of confidence from the Michael J. Fox Foundation earlier this year. Now the startup has added a big batch of cash to help push that drug—an inhalable version of a long used, but flawed treatment for the disorder—through a key mid-stage clinical trial.

Chelsea, MA-based Civitas has raised a $38 million Series B round led by Bay City Capital. RA Capital and another undisclosed “blue chip public investment fund” joined Civitas’ funding syndicate as part of the round. All of Civitas’ previous investors—including Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS), Canaan Partners, Fountain Healthcare Partners, and Longitude Capital—took part. The company has now raised at least $63 million through two VC financing rounds, and another $1.3 million from two grants from the Michael J. Fox Foundation. RA Capital partner Rajeev Shah and Bay City partner Rob Hopfner have joined Civitas’ board of directors as part of the latest round.

Civitas, which was formed around a drug delivery technology created by Alkermes, will use the cash to help bankroll the continued clinical development of CVT-301, an inhalable version of levodopa that is administered via a device about the size of a pen. Civitas will also begin exploring other uses for its platform, which enables it to deliver a precise high dose of a drug through an inhaler.

Civitas is developing CVT-301 as an adjunct therapy to levodopa (aka L-dopa) pills. Though such pills have long been used by a majority of Parkinson’s patients to manage symptoms such as tremors and stiffness, they have the drawback of producing erratic levels of the drug in the bloodstream. Large protein molecules from food can block L-dopa before it is absorbed in the intestines, and this can lead to what’s known as “off episodes,” when patients’ medications stop working and their symptoms reappear. Civitas wants patients to be able to take a puff of CVT-301 when such episodes occur. The idea is, by delivering the drug through an inhalalable device, Civitas can avoid the absorption problem. In theory, the drug would act quickly because the L-dopa doesn’t have to work its way through the gut.

Still, Civitas has to prove this can really help patients on a large scale. It recently began a Phase 2b clinical trial, in which it is randomly assigning patients either CVT-301 or a placebo inhaler and allowing them to take it home with them and use it, as needed, during their off episodes. Civitas will monitor the results over a month of continued use, and report its initial findings during the first half of 2014.