Deals, Startups

Roche grabs a remyelination MS drug from Versant as the research team spins out into a $25M regenerative med startup

Nearly 4 years after Roche agreed to pay the research tab for a team of investigators at Versant Ventures’ discovery group Inception Sciences to see if they could come up with a viable, IND-ready compound to take into the clinic for remyelination work in multiple sclerosis, the pharma giant has grabbed its star candidate. And the team they helped fund is now being spun out into a startup focused on neuroregeneration with the blessings of Versant and a commitment of $25 million to help fund their new, independent existence.

Brad Bolzon

Not unusually for early-stage work, we aren’t getting the full suite of details on either the Roche deal teams or the startup. Versant’s Brad Bolzon says the pharma giant is ready to go into the clinic, and he sees Versant’s startup crew at the newly created Pipeline Therapeutics as another sign of the rebirth of the regenerative medicine field — something they’ve already bet big on with the launch of Bayer-backed BlueRock.

Remyelination involves a repair to the nerve damage that causes MS, an attempt to reverse a devastating disease. That’s a big goal, and a tough target. Biogen tried and failed on remyelination in a high-profile Phase II with opicinumab, or anti-Lingo-1, in 2016. The drug, though, remains in Biogen’s pipeline.

Clare Ozawa

Brian Stearns and Daniel Lorrain, who helped lead the discovery work with leads from UC San Francisco, are off to run the R&D group at Pipeline now, as Clare Ozawa, Versant’s managing director, takes the helm. Pipeline is getting started with a team of 12 and plans to seek outcome early alliances among pharma players looking to get back into regenerative medicine after a long absence.

In an interview, Stearns tells me that the new company plans to remain a “bit cagey” about its pipeline right now, but noted that synaptic deficiencies will be one area of neuroregeneration it plans to focus on.

“This is exactly what the discovery engines were designed to do,” says Bolzon, “be an early mover into a new field like remyelination.” These new operations can partner or go it alone, raising more money — just like we saw a few days ago with Versant spinout Tempest’s $70 million round.


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