The shaking, tremors, and loss of muscle control in some movement disorders can be traced to misfiring neurons. Cadent Therapeutics has developed a drug intended to help those neurons send signals properly. The Cambridge, MA-based company now $40 million in Series B funding to advance the drug into mid-stage human studies.
The Cadent drug, CAD-1883, targets a type of ion channel that regulates neuronal activity. These calcium-sensitive potassium ion channels, found throughout the central nervous system, control the amount of potassium that enters a cell. By modulating these channels, Cadent’s drug can control the firing rate of neurons, according to the company.
Cadent is testing its approach as a treatment for spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA) and essential tremor, two movement disorders that have limited treatment options. The company is also studying the drug as a potential treatment for cognitive disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia.
“We think of it as a dimmer switch,” Cadent CEO Michael Curtis says. “We’re turning up or down the ion channel.”
In animal studies, Cadent reported that its drug regulated neuron firing, improved motor control, and reduced tremors. Ion channels have previously been targeted by heart drugs. Curtis says Cadent’s focus is on movement and cognitive disorders, but he says the concern surrounding ion channel-targeting drugs is whether such therapies can safely treat the brain without affecting the heart. Curtis says that in a Phase 1 study so far, the Cadent drug has shown no negative effect on the heart.
The Cadent drug’s journey to this point made multiple stops and turns. The compound was originally discovered by Saniona, a Copenhagen, Denmark-based drug company. Venture capital firm Atlas Venture acquired the drug and gave Saniona equity in a new startup, Ataxion, that it formed in 2013 to develop the compound.
Last year, Ataxion merged with another Atlas startup, Luc Therapeutics, a Cambridge company focused on developing drugs for psychiatric disorders. Curtis says the merger of the two companies makes the combined entity more attractive to investors because it has multiple assets and multiple options to develop them—licensing or partnership deals with a larger company, or keeping the drugs in-house. Meanwhile, Saniona holds a minority stake in the combined company, and is entitled to royalties from sales if Cadent is able to bring CAD-1883 to the market.
Both Ataxion and Luc had raised a combined $23 million in Series A financing. The latest financing brings Cadent’s total funding to $63 million. Cowen Healthcare Investments and Atlas led the Series B financing, joined by Qiming Venture Partners, Access Industries, Clal Biotechnology Industries, and Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.
Cadent has additional investment from Novartis (NYSE: NVS) through a deal that was originally made with Luc. Novartis and Luc had partnered on that startup’s drug, which modulates NMDA receptors in the brain. That collaboration brought the drug into a Phase 1 study in depression. Cadent plans to start its own Phase 1 test of the NMDA-modulating drug in schizophrenia by the end of next year.
Curtis says the new funding will support clinical development of both Cadent drugs through 2020. The company plans to start two Phase 2 studies of CAD-1883. The first, in essential tremor, should begin by the end of the year, with preliminary results expected in the first quarter. The second Phase 2 trial, in SCA, is expected to start in mid-2019. Data from that study are expected in 2020.
Public domain Image of spinal cord motor neurons by Flickr user Berkshire Community College Bioscience Image Library