Neurophage Nabs $17M More to Hunt Down Brain Plaques

Xconomy Boston — 

Neurophage has spent years developing a way to break up disease-causing plaques in the brain, based on lessons it learned from a virus that infects bacteria. Today, it raised enough cash to begin testing that method out in its first clinical trial.

Cambridge, MA-based Neurophage closed out a $17 million Series D round from both new and existing investors. Neurophage didn’t specify who has joined the syndicate to help provide the new funds—president and CEO Jonathan Solomon says the round came from “primarily insiders”—but its existing investor pool includes Shire, Merieux Developpement, and private angel investors. Neurophage has now raised a total of $52 million since it was formed in 2007 out of Harvard Business School by Solomon and Hampus Hillerstrom (executive vice president and chief business officer).

Neurophage will use the cash both to bring NPT088, its most advanced drug candidate, to its first clinical trial, and help develop some next-generation compounds behind it. Neurophage didn’t say specifically which diseases it would target in the trial, but Solomon told me previously that the company would likely use PET imaging to see if the drug candidate is reducing levels of misfolded amyloid beta or tau—the proteins that form plaques in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s. Neurophage has also hinted at using its platform to target more rare neurological disorders like Huntington’s Disease or transthyretin amyloidosis.

Neurophage president and CEO Jonathan Solomon

Neurophage president and CEO Jonathan Solomon

Neurophage is built on the concept of targeting diseases caused by protein misfolding—when a mistake occurs in the complicated origami that turns a long linear chain of amino acids into a functional, three-dimensional protein. Misfolded proteins can be inactive or toxic substances, and can accumulate into clumps or plaques, as is the case with amyloid beta in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Many of the high-profile failures in the Alzheimer’s field have consisted of antibodies designed to bind to a single type of misfolded protein. Neurophage’s idea is to use engineered fusion protein drugs that hit several of them simultaneously. NPT088 is on track to become Neurophage’s first shot to prove that the approach can lead to a real clinical benefit.

Neurophage’s approach grew out of a fluky discovery Solomon’s mother, Beka, made during an experiment using a filamentous bacteriophage—a virus that targets bacteria—several years ago. I profiled Neurophage, and that fortuitous experiment, back in January.