Drug Development

Backed by neuro enthusiast Arch, upstart BlackThorn tackles some tough targets with $40M round

Mark Corrigan

Mark Corrigan

Arch Venture Partners has fostered a new neurosciences biotech company that will now follow a similar trail to the one being blazed by the high-profile startup Denali. Working with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Altitude Life Science Ventures, Mercury Fund, Alexandria Real Estate Equities as well as an “undisclosed crossover fund,” the VC is unveiling BlackThorn Therapeutics today, which will now have a $40 million Series A to play with as it looks to help revive a complex and challenging field.

BlackThorn intends to target neurobehavioral disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and schizophrenia, fields that defied a generation of Big Pharma clinical efforts and saw many of the biggest players like AstraZeneca or GlaxoSmithKline either drop out or scale far back.

Big Pharma’s retreat, though, was followed by rapid progress in genomics. And BlackThorn, described by Executive Chairman Mark Corrigan as a “brother company to Denali,” plans to follow up on that progress by advancing new technologies that can help identify specific patient populations that can be helped by specific therapies. And it’s starting out with a well advanced program, picking up a failed drug from Eli Lilly with plans to launch Phase II study.

The treatment – a nociceptin receptor antagonist – is now dubbed BTRX- 246040.

Lilly “had put it in a couple of early Phase II programs,” says Corrigan. “It failed in major depressive disorders,” but there were also intriguing results to follow up on.

Corrigan is careful to note, though, that this is just the beginning of building a serious pipeline of new drugs for neurobehavioral conditions. The big idea at the company is that they can advance new tools for imaging and assessment that will allow the biotech to do a much better job at tracking the impact of a new drug on patients. Done the right way, BlackThorn expects it can skirt the pitfalls that claimed so many projects before.

At the same time, Corrigan says that regulators will be asked to look at these diseases and the ways they can be treated differently, adapting to the progress in order to avoid seeing a repeat of the same mistakes. But at this stage, he adds, “I think the FDA is open to some of these discussions.”

The biotech has a cast of scientific advisers in its corner with an impressive set of resumes. The Scripps team of Edward Roberts, PhD, and Hugh Rosen, MD, PhD, who co-founded Receptos, are on board. And the advisory group includes Steven Hyman, MD, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research and core member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, and Matt State, MD, PhD, chair of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and director of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute.

Former Celgene research exec Tom Daniel is advising the company.

Corrigan says you can expect to see BlackThorn start adding staffers to the 13-member team which has already signed on. And there are plans afoot to link up with tech partners, much like Denali has done, as it builds its platform. That’s something that Daniel also knows something about.


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