Atlas ramps up a new biotech player focused on neurology, with a $30M round to fund the work
About 6 months ago, Jeffrey Milbrandt and Aaron DiAntonio out of Washington University published a high-profile paper in Neuron highlighting the role that SARM1 played in the degradation of axons — a pathology that pushes patients with a variety of neurological conditions like MS and ALS down a dangerous pathway.
What they didn’t say at the time was that Jason Rhodes, a partner at Atlas Venture, was already seeding the foundational science work on SARM1 that would go into a new company that is having its coming out party today. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech upstart is called Disarm Therapeutics, and it’s leaping onto the biotech stage with a $30 million round to advance a pipeline of SARM1 inhibitors for a variety of diseases.
The scientific exploration goes back to 2012, Rhodes tells me, so by the time he got involved in the company-building effort the two investigators were already well down the road on the discovery work, examining the role of an active enzyme in attacking axons.
“The goal is to reduce the rate of decay, stabilize it,” Rhodes explains. “You can actually reverse and recover damaged axons.” In a disease like MS, adding one of their drugs to a standard of care treatment could reduce the magnitude and frequency of the flares that damage patients brains.
“Most get secondary progressive disease,” says Rhodes, “which is defined by a loss of axonal volume.”
“One of the main goals was to de-risk the biology in a human neuronal cell culture, look at damage after an acute insult,” says Raj Devraj, the co-founder and CSO at Disarm. “That gave us a lot of confidence,” he says, adding that the group wanted to nail down IP for a broad portfolio focused on mechanisms of action.
Disarm will be pursuing a familiar, semi-virtual model with this company, which Rhodes will helm through the startup period. That calls for a small but expert team working with outsourcing groups like Evotec, where they enjoy some longstanding relationships. The Cambridge crowd will recognize Devraj, the CSO at Michael Gilman’s former company Padlock (before it was bought out) and one of the go-to scientists at Atlas.
Of note, Biogen’s Al Sandrock is joining the board as an independent member. Biogen’s MS drugs have changed the standard of care in MS and he brings some deep expertise in the field.
Atlas Venture led the round, of course, with co-investors Lightstone Ventures and AbbVie Ventures stepping in alongside.