Neuron23 Inc., founded in 2018 through a partnership with German biotechnology company, Origenis GmbH, has recently come out of stealth mode. Origenis develops precision medicine for genetically defined neurological and immunological diseases. Neuron23 is not disclosing its number of employees and is working on other kinase inhibitors as well.
The company announced its launch backed by a combined $113.5 million from Series A ( $33.5 million) and B ( $80 million) fundraising rounds. Series A was led by Westlake Village BioPartners, and Kleiner Perkins, and Series B was led by Redmile Group. Other Series B investors include Westlake Village BioPartners, Kleiner Perkins, Cowen Healthcare Investments, Acorn Bioventures, HBM Partners, Perceptive Advisors, and Surveyor Capital (a Citadel company).
“We are pleased to have such strong support from this syndicate of blue-chip investors who recognize our potential to build a new type of precision medicine company,” said Nancy Stagliano, Ph.D., CEO and Board Chair at Neuron23.
AI Drug Development
Neuron23’s funding will develop its pipeline and expand its AI-enabled drug discovery and biomarker platforms. It is the goal of Neuron23 to complete two projects in particular in the next two years. The groundwork for these projects was laid by Origenis GmbH, which licensed two small-molecule inhibitor programs to Neuron23 founders Adam Knight and Beth Seidenberg.
“Our partnership with Origenis gives us significant competitive advantages over traditional drug discovery approaches, including high throughput capabilities to identify scores of potent, selective, and brain-penetrant molecules for each target,” said Dr. Knight.
This platform will be used primarily for identifying therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases, systemic autoimmune, and inflammatory diseases. The potential exists for each program to address multiple central nervous system (CNS) and systemic diseases, creating “pipeline within a product” opportunities and to bolster its platform to identify genetic signatures of patients most likely to respond to the development candidates.
The first project is to develop a small molecule inhibitor for Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2). This gene codes for a kinase enzyme of the same name that is mutated in 3% of patients with Parkinson’s disease. The second program is pursuing brain-penetrant inhibitors for a kinase that is associated with multiple sclerosis known as tyrosine kinase 2 (TYK2).
Westlake Village BioPartners recently launched two funds totaling $500 million and launched a new biopharma company, ACELYRIN. Westlake’s investment in the Series B round for Neuron23 came from its Opportunity 1 fund, one of the new funds launched and designed to invest additional capital into their incubates. In addition to Neuron23’s investment round, they are also being hosted in Eli Lilly and Co.’s new, 66,000-square-foot biopharma incubator in South San Francisco.
A variety of companies are currently trying to break into the in silico drug development market. Some of the largest players are IBM, Microsoft, Atomwise Inc., Deep Genomics, Cloud Pharmaceuticals, Insilico Medicine, Benevolent AI, and BIOAGE
To make this work companies require more than just a powerful computer. The calculations involved in protein modeling far exceed that which can be done on even high-performance desktop computers.
As a result of the expensive and specialized equipment, a major company strategy for breaking into the AI drug delivery market is adopting strategic collaborations like that between Atomwise Inc. and Jiangsu Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group Co. Ltd in September 2019.
The rise in demand for a reduction in the overall time taken for the drug discovery process is a key driver propelling the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) in the drug discovery market. With the use of AI, the standard three to five years of evaluation in animal models before they are evaluated in humans can be cut down to a matter of a few days or months. Neuron23 is following this sound strategy and choosing a specific category of diseases that are both dangerous enough to warrant substantial research but not be so popular as to flood them with the competition.
By Eduardo Longoria
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