The ALS Investment Fund has teamed with the ALS Association and is looking to establish new partnerships as part of its efforts to raise $100 million and collate a diversified set of portfolio companies.
Craig Boyce, managing partner of the ALS Investment Fund, tells Xconomy it would have been crazy to start the fund 25 years ago when his father was first diagnosed with ALS, a fatal, progressive neurodegenerative disease for which there is no known cure.
But today, with significant advancements in science and medicine supported by hundreds of millions in funding, and this space is starting to make real advances.
The ALS Investment Fund is currently tracking more than 100 companies with an ALS therapy at some point in its development. Three years ago, Boyce says this was only a handful or two.
With Fund II, Boyce says it will look to invest in companies with a platform or multiple approaches to ALS and/or other diseases in order to create diversity, “So it’s not just one shot and a binary outcome.”
“What we are focused on is creating a set of companies that make a diversified portfolio, so that even if we aren’t successful in our initial trials, we’ll generate a return and continue to attract more investor capital to continue investing in our mission,” he tells Xconomy.
The goal is to start investing out of the new fund in the second half of 2020. As part of this, the ALS Investment Fund also is looking to team up with nonprofits, like the ALS Association.
“ALS foundations are relatively small and fragmented so nobody individually really has the scale to create an investment platform like we’ve created, the hope is many will see the opportunity to invest in and advance their mission while also having the opportunity to get financial results,” he adds.
As part of its collaboration with the venture capital fund, the ALS Association will be investing an undisclosed amount with the goal of raising a total of $100 million.
Could this be the next ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Boyce notes that the venture capital model is very different from the social media sensation that in 2014 raised more than $115 million—but the ability to generate impactful results is the same.
The fund also hopes to attract pharma partners interested in keeping a close eye on the startups in this space. “ALS provides both a high unmet need in terms of disease therapies, but also has the potential to unlock broader insights into other neurodegenerative diseases,” notes Boyce.
To date, the initial $25 million fund has made five investments and will continue to make a sixth, perhaps a seventh, while the fundraising for Fund II is underway.
“Imagine having a cocktail of two or three potential therapies that we invest in that could be used in combination and hopefully have a number of investments,” says Boyce, speaking to the fund’s strategy. Part of this includes backing companies that have tools to expedite drug development, such as Boston-based Emulate, which is developing organ models on laboratory chips. The ALS Investment Fund participated in the company’s Series C round which brought in $36 million last year.
Emulate now has developed a blood/brain barrier model, but the goal is to create a full ALS model on a chip. “If we can develop this organ-on-a-chip ALS model we hope to have more accurate testing of both safety and efficacy,” says Boyce.
The ALS Investment Fund also was an early investor in the West Coast startup Verge Genomics, which is using machine learning to catalyze drug discovery. On the more translational side, the fund also invested in a company Amylyx. The company’s therapeutic candidate, AMX0035, is being evaluated as a potential disease-modifying treatment for ALS in the Centaur Trial. “We’ve got high hopes for that company and hopefully that will be the next wave of positive news,” says Boyce. “That’s something to keep an eye out for.”
The fund also holds shares in a Danish biopharmaceutical company, Orphazyme, which is planning a clinical trial for ALS. On the other side of the Atlantic, the last investment from the original fund is Apic Bio in Cambridge, MA. The company is developing a gene therapy targeting rare neurological and liver diseases. “We think it’s also relevant and applicable to other diseases that could be in development down the road,” says Boyce.
(Photo by Vladimir Solomyani on Unsplash)