Regenacy Pharmaceuticals, a biotech formed as part of Celgene’s acquisition of Acetylon Pharmaceuticals in late 2016, has raised $30 million in Series A financing to move its lead program into a Phase 2 proof-of-concept trial this year.
The Waltham, MA-based company is developing treatments to address the underlying cause of peripheral neuropathies—a form of nerve damage in the fingers and toes that causes numbness and tingling—associated with diabetes and other conditions.
Regenacy plans to first evaluate its lead drug candidate, ricolinostat, in diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
Nerve damage caused by diabetes is a common and serious complication of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, affecting as many as half of all diabetes patients. Regenacy estimates more than 200 million people with diabetes worldwide experience signs or symptoms of the condition, which can include numbness or reduced ability to feel pain or temperature changes, tingling or burning sensations, sharp pains or cramps, increased sensitivity to touch, and serious foot problems, such as ulcers, infections, and bone and joint pain. In addition to impacting quality of life, diabetic peripheral neuropathy can increase patients’ risk of limb amputation, according to the company.
No approved treatments for the condition target its underlying causes or address associated numbness, and drugs typically used to manage nerve pain and other symptoms come with the risks of side effects. While the reason people with diabetes experience nerve damage is unknown, researchers think that uncontrolled high blood sugar may over time cause deterioration that interferes with nerves’ ability to send signals.
Regenacy’s ricolinostat is an experimental oral medicine designed to selectively block histone deacetylase 6 (HDAC6), an enzyme that, if inhibited, Regenacy believes will let nerve cells better regulate the microtubules that play a key role in moving substances within the cell. When that transport function is disrupted, nerve cells can malfunction and send random signals or no signal at all. The company believes blocking HDAC6 could help cells reestablish that ability to appropriately transport substances and in doing so, reverse peripheral neuropathy symptoms and restore nerve fibers.
The company also plans to study ricolinostat as a potential treatment for peripheral neuropathy caused by chemotherapy and peripheral neuropathy resulting from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2. Regenacy has other investigational drugs designed to target the HDAC class of enzymes in its preclinical pipeline as potential treatments for major blood diseases such as leukemia, sickle cell disease, beta thalassemia, and cognitive dysfunction in neurological disorders.
Regenacy is headed by CEO Simon Jones, who started with the company as chief operating officer and senior vice president of preclinical development when it spun out and was appointed chief executive in mid-2017. Acetylon’s deal with Celgene, now part of Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), gave the pharma giant the rights to ricolinostat and another of its drug candidates, citarinostat, for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and autoimmune diseases. Regenacy kept the rights to the two drugs for other disease types, including nerve pain.
Cobro Ventures and Taiwania Capital Management led Regenacy’s Series A financing round. 3E Bioventures Capital, Yonjin Capital, Viva Biotech Holdings, Ta Ya Venture, and undisclosed private investors participated. As part of the deal, Taiwania managing partner Michael Huang, 3E operating partner Frank Yan, and Yonjin managing director Daguang Wang join Regenacy’s board of directors.