Drug Development

VC giant NEA backs an upstart’s plan to tackle neurodegeneration

Neurodegenerative diseases are both one of the toughest challenges in drug development as well as potentially one of the most lucrative fields in the business. If you can figure out what the bad players are that trigger damage, and come up with a drug to halt or even modestly slow that process, you could have a blockbuster on your hands.

But then there’s a long line of companies that have tried and failed at it, blowing billions in the process.

Annexon Biosciences in the South San Francisco hub is one of the upstarts that is trying to beat the odds. Today, it gained the support of New Enterprise Associates – the behemoth in the global biotech VC community – for a $44 million B round that will begin to put their theories to a human test.

The bad player for Annexon is C1q, a protein that plays a natural role in pruning unneeded synapses in our youth. But when brain trauma occurs, say when toxic proteins cluster in the brain, C1q goes rogue, running amuck and creating damage by removing healthy synapses and inflicting serious damage on our cognitive abilities.

Or at least that is Annexon’s working theory. So far, it’s been running animal models on safety and efficacy. The lead program will set out to protect nerve connections in the brain as well as another program focused on ophthalmology. 

Annexon was co-founded by Stanford’s Ben Barres and the formerCSO at Rinat, Arnon Rosenthal. 

Correlation Ventures and a group of existing Annexon investors, including Novartis Venture Fund, Clarus, and Satter Investment Management, all joined the round. And NEA’s Frank Torti, M.D., is joining the board.

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