Damage to axons, the slender tendrils through which nerve cells communicate, is an early indication of several neurological diseases. Nura Bio, which formed around new research into a mechanism underlying axonal degeneration, made its public debut Wednesday with a $73 million financing round and a chief executive who has experience shepherding multiple drug development programs from discovery to commercialization.
Alpna Seth leads Nura (formerly Proneurotech) as its president and CEO. She joined last August, while the startup was still under wraps, after a stint as chief operating officer at Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ: VIR) and two decades at neuro drug developer Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), where she most recently headed its biosimilars business.
At Nura, “our goal is to prevent neuronal injury and then once there is injury, to restore the function of the neuron,” Seth told Xconomy.
South San Francisco-based Nura aims to do so by first targeting an enzyme known as SARM1, which plays a key role in the death of axons after injury. That discovery was made in the lab of Marc Freeman, who directs the Vollum Institute at Oregon Health & Science University.
“We’re trying to go direct, as close to the injury as possible, and SARM1 is that kind of a target,” Seth said. “It only gets activated upon injury … it seems to act like a switch, a metabolic regulator that then leads to this cascade of events and degeneration of the axon.”
The company aims to stop that switch from flicking on in an effort to prevent such damage to the axons and the subsequent reduction in the impulses the fibers typically conduct.
Freeman and Steve McKnight, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, are Nura’s scientific founders. The pair, with the Column Group, which led Nura’s Series A funding with participation from Samsara BioCapital and Euclidean Capital, started the company in 2018. Today the firm has about 30 employees.
Since inception, Nura has built a pipeline of preclinical drugs designed to target axonal degeneration and neuroinflammation, but the company hasn’t yet determined which indications to pursue within the broad range of conditions it believes its investigational therapeutics can address, Seth says.
And its not ready yet to estimate how close its lead program, which will target SARM1, is to the clinic.
“One thing about SARM1 is that it truly seems to have potential, really quite remarkable, across a multitude of disease settings, all the way from central nervous system indications to peripheral as well as ocular, so what we are working on is triaging all of these possibilities and chart out a path … to get that proof of concept in the clinic, but then also to interrogate, in parallel, the other possibilities,” Seth said.