Cerevance, a biotech focused on developing new treatments for brain diseases, has added $45 million to its coffers in a Series B financing round from investors including the venture capital arm of Google parent company Alphabet and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.
On Tuesday the Boston-based company said the money would allow it to continue identifying new targets for central nervous system diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, using its NETSseq platform. The technology aims to surmount some of the many challenges associated with finding targets to drug in the brain that can alter the course of neurological and psychiatric diseases. These targets include proteins that are relevant to the disease but not too broadly produced, making them less likely lead to side effects when their activity is altered.
NETSseq, developed at Rockefeller University by company co-founders Nat Heintz, who serves as chief scientific advisor, and Xiao Xu, a senior research fellow, profiles different types of brain cells taken from post-mortem tissue samples. The company says it has more than 7,000 tissue samples from people spanning nine decades in age, including some who were healthy and some who had diseases. To assemble the collection, Cerevance has partnered with 14 brain banks around the world.
The company has one investigational therapeutic in the clinic, a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease designed to target a pathway associated with the condition, and seven other preclinical programs.
David Schenkein, a general partner at GV, the Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) venture fund, in a statement highlighted the company’s leadership team as among the elements positioning it for success in creating therapies for patients with brain diseases, a field littered with clinical trial failures.
CEO Brad Margus previously co-founded and ran a number of biotechs, including Jupiter, FL-based Envoy Therapeutics, a CNS drug discovery company that was acquired by Takeda Pharmaceutical (NYSE: TAK) in deal worth up to $140 million in 2012. Heintz also played a key advisory role at Envoy, which he co-founded, and Rob Middlebrook, Cerevance’s chief financial officer, was Envoy’s CFO.
Mark Carlton, Cerevance’s chief scientific officer, previously headed a Takeda research site in the UK. At the time, the Japanese pharma and Envoy, in which Takeda had invested, were working together on schizophrenia research. Takeda closed the UK site in 2016, but provided Cerevance, which launched that year, with part of its $36 million Series A financing—and a 25-person neuroscience research team from the shuttered research center, a group that included Carlton.
Foresite Capital, a healthcare investment firm with offices in San Francisco and New York, invested in the company’s Series B round too. All of the company’s earlier investors, including Takeda, Lightstone, the Dementia Discovery Fund, also participated in the financing.
In addition to its in-house work, Cerevance in December signed a research collaboration with Takeda to identify new proteins that, if appropriately targeted, could treat certain gastrointestinal disorders.