People, Startups

David de Graaf has a new gig, a new idea and a new startup — hunting some new money

David de Graaf has a new gig at the helm of a tiny biotech startup. And he has some big plans to pursue an unusual pathway in drug development.

You may remember that de Graaf had been CEO at Syntimmune, leaving the company shortly before Alexion swooped in and bought the rare-disease biotech for $1.2 billion. Last fall, he stepped up to take charge of a small company in the Netherlands. 

In short order, he changed the name to Comet and set up a new HQ in Cambridge, MA — 3 of the 5-member startup team are still in the Netherlands — and now the ex-Apple Tree partner has hit the circuit looking to raise a launch round for his new endeavor, with plans to boost the staff to about 20 people.

In an interview, de Graaf explained that Comet will be focused entirely on coenzyme A and its role in metabolism. Discovered 70 years ago, every cell requires coenzyme A to break down fats and sugars to create energy. And defects in the pathway are linked to a plethora of diseases, with applications in neurology, metabolic diseases and cancer.

For example, if you make a species of CoA and build it up in cells in specific areas of the body, you could have an impact on diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s — but let’s also emphasize that these are 2 of the toughest targets in biopharma, and Comet is still very much a preclinical company. The big idea is that the right prodrug can be used to spur production of a therapy inside the body.

Working with seed cash from Sofinnova Partners out of Paris and INKEF in Amsterdam, they’ve been looking at how this technology could be used to restore the process required to make amino acids. And they’re particularly interested in organic acidemias as an initial focus for R&D.

“This is the evolution of an idea,” de Graaf tells me, “making a molecule that increases levels of coenzyme A.”

If all goes according to plan, de Graaf expects to complete his A round in the near future and get into the clinic in 2 years. 

The company, though, isn’t entirely alone in the CoA field. Neil Kumar set up CoA Therapeutics under his BridgeBio umbrella, with a focus on genetic disorders, starting with PKAN.


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