Neurona Therapeutics is dashing to the clinic with its cell therapy for epilepsy — but first, another venture round
Six years ago, a band of neuroscientists from the University of California, San Francisco combined decades of research and jumped into the hunt for an off-the-shelf cell therapy. Now, that team is sprinting toward the clinic with a treatment for epilepsy — but first, it’s making a pit stop at the venture well.
Neurona Therapeutics unveiled a $41.5 million round on Tuesday morning, bringing the San Francisco-based biotech’s total raise to $135 million. The cash will be used to advance the company’s pipeline, including an upcoming Phase I/IIa for its lead candidate, NRTX-1001, in chronic focal epilepsy.
“We see cell therapy as a promising approach for chronic disorders of the nervous system for which current treatment options are not optimal,” said UCB Ventures head Erica Whittaker, who’s joining Neurona’s board of directors, in a statement.
The central nervous system contains excitatory cells and inhibitory cells, and normal brain and spinal cord function depends on a delicate balance between the two, according to Neurona. The balance is normally established just after birth — but the degeneration of particular CNS cell types can lead to the dysregulation of neural circuits, which can cause epileptic seizures, neuropathic pain, spasticity and certain types of cognitive impairments.
Neurona’s founders believe that certain types of neuron transplants can rebalance nervous system activity and repair neural circuits. NRTX-1001 is derived from human pluripotent stem cells, and comprises interneurons that secrete gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It targets seizure-onset regions in the brain, according to CEO Cory Nicholas, to restore balance to hyperactive neural networks.
The candidate is delivered to the hippocampus — the tissue most frequently affected in focal epilepsy — using an MRI-guided procedure, according to the company.
“We believe there is an unprecedented opportunity to create a novel class of therapeutics with the potential to permanently repair dysfunctional neural circuits,” Tim Kutzkey, a partner at The Column Group, said in a statement when the company launched with a $23.5 million Series A round back in 2015.
The Column Group returned to co-lead the newest round, along with new investor UCB Ventures. Sphera Fund Management, Alexandria Venture Investments and Ironfire Ventures chipped in.