Our immune systems are designed to monitor for signs of foreign molecules, and among the first responses to such signals of potential danger are the formation of structures called inflammasomes.
But the innate immune system’s natural inflammatory reaction, a protective mechanism meant to tackle any impending infection or injury, may also cause damaging inflammation in people with a wide range of diseases in which that lingering response causes chronic health problems.
NodThera, one of a handful of companies developing drugs intended to inhibit inflammasomes without affecting appropriate immune system activity, has raised $55 million to advance its lead candidate through clinical studies, further develop earlier-stage compounds, and continue its drug discovery efforts.
On Wednesday the company, which has offices in Cambridge, UK, and on both US coasts, revealed the addition of the Series B round to its coffers. The financing was led by Novo Ventures, the investment arm of Danish diabetes care giant Novo Nordisk (NYSE: NVO).
NodThera, a spinout of Polish drug discovery company Selvita, launched in August 2016. The company raised $40 million from founding investor Epidarex Capital and others in a Series A financing in June 2018. Later that year NodThera added Adam Keeney (pictured), Sanofi Genzyme’s former business development chief, as CEO, and expanded its footprint from the UK to the US, establishing offices in Lexington, MA, where Keeney is based, and Seattle.
Now NodThera is moving ahead investigational small molecules designed to inhibit the NLRP3 inflammasomes—named after one of the proteins that make up the structure—without broadly suppressing the immune system.
Its most advanced inhibitor, NT-0167, is under evaluation in a Phase 1 clinical trial in healthy volunteers. NodThera also has other compounds, including some that can cross the blood-brain barrier to potentially address neuroinflammation, that haven’t yet reached the clinic. The company hasn’t said which conditions it plans to target, but has said it is considering neurodegenerative diseases. The company has also said it is eying tests of these compounds in fibrotic disorders of the liver and lungs, such as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Henrijette Richter, managing partner at Sofinnova Partners, an earlier NodThera backer that returned for the Series B round, called the development of medicines that target the NLRP3 inflammasome “one of the most exciting emerging areas of drug discovery.”
Other earlier investors that participated included 5AM Ventures, F-Prime Capital, and Epidarex. Some new investors joined too, including Cowen Healthcare Investments and Sanofi Ventures.
There are other biotechs and pharma companies looking to tackle chronic disease by regulating inflammasome activity.
In late 2018 Roche snapped up San Diego startup Jecure Therapeutics for its early research into potentially treating NASH by inhibiting inflammasome activity, paying an undisclosed amount of cash. Last year Novartis (NYSE: NVS) acquired Boston-based IFM Tre, which was also looking to target NLRP3 and other inflammasomes, splashing out $310 million up front less than a year after the company’s launch. Last month Ventus, a startup with operations in Waltham, MA, and Montreal, made its debut with $60 million and plans to develop small molecule drugs that target proteins in the inflammasome.
As part of the NodThera deal Novo Ventures partner Nanna Lüneborg, Cowen Healthcare managing partner Kevin Raidy, and F-Prime partner Alex Pasteur join the company’s board of directors.