Nitrome Biosciences is looking to leverage its research into a class of enzymes involved in the aggregation of a protein characteristic of Parkinson’s disease into a treatment for that and other age-related diseases.
This week the San Francisco-based startup raised $38 million, a Series A financing that it anticipates will allow it to ready its lead program to start human testing.
Treatments today for Parkinson’s aim to relieve its symptoms, which can include tremors, muscle stiffness, and slowness of movement. Nearly 1 million people in the US are affected by the disease, with 60,000 more diagnosed yearly. But there is no drug yet that can slow or halt its progression. Nitrome aims to develop a therapy that can do just that.
Parkinson’s patients’ symptoms are caused by low levels of dopamine, a chemical made by the brain cells. The condition is characterized by the buildup of toxic forms of a protein called alpha-synuclein within neurons, which causes brain cells to degenerate and die. Nitrome’s approach targets enzymes it calls nitrases, which it says catalyzes alpha-synuclein’s aggregation, or misfolding, that leads to the formation of toxic clumps.
Nitrome’s work, which started in Jackson Hole, WY, continues at the Bay Area incubator MBC Biolabs. CEO Irene Griswold-Prenner, who also serves as Nitrome’s chief scientifist officer, told Xconomy that the company anticipates its lead program will be ready for human tests in three to four years. During that time, Nitrome also plans to explore the application of its technology to other indications, and determine which ones to pursue next, she said. The company will need to raise additional funds for its lead drug candidate’s clinical development.
Griswold-Prenner previously cofounded Imago Pharmaceuticals. That company is studying JNK inhibitors, programs it acquired from Elan Pharmaceuticals after its breakup, for neurodegenerative diseases and other conditions.
Paris-based life sciences venture capital firm Sofinnova Partners and the investment arm of AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) led Nitrome’s Series A round. Neuroscience is one of AbbVie’s primary areas of R&D, although it has relatively few active trials in its pipeline compared to oncology and immunology. Next year the company anticipates reporting Phase 3 results from a trial of a subcutaneous formulation of levodopa/carbidopa, a widely used Parkinson’s medication.
That drug, like others on the market, aims to increase dopamine. But AbbVie is also in the clinic with another Parkinson’s treatment, that, like Nitrome’s lead program, is designed to target alpha-synuclein. AbbVie licensed that drug, ABBV-0805, in 2018 from Sweden’s BioArctic as part of a collaboration to develop and commercialize the biotech’s portfolio of antibodies directed at the protein.
The Dementia Discovery Fund, Mission Bay Capital, and Alexandria Venture Investments also invested in the new Nitrome financing. As part of the deal Sofinnova managing partner Henrijette Richter, AbbVie Ventures managing partner Margarita Chavez, and Dementia Discovery Fund partner Jonathan Behr join Nitrome’s board of directors.
Other companies with efforts underway to develop a treatment for the disease include San Diego’s Aspen Neuroscience, which raised $70 million in recent weeks to finance its cell therapy approach. Last year, Cambridge, MA-based Voyager Therapeutics last year cut a deal with Neurocrine Biosciences (NASDAQ: NBIX) to advance an experimental gene therapy intended to help patients whose response to levodopa medication has waned.