Startups, Venture

UK startup NodThera banks a $40M round with plans to conquer a closely-studied inflammatory target

A startup in Cambridge, UK called NodThera has banked a $40 million A round to dig deeper into developing small molecules targeting NLRP3, a rather notorious inflammasome that’s been linked to a variety of inflammatory conditions.

Alan Watt

CEO Alan Watt explains that he was researching this target a decade ago when he worked at GlaxoSmithKline in a senior research position. “At that point,” he says, “we didn’t find any chemical leads.”

Pfizer, though, did find a selective NLRP3 inhibitor, dubbed CP-456773, which never really went anywhere. And NodThera is following up on that effort — now public domain — with its own small molecules which it hopes to put through the clinic.

There is an interesting back story here.

NLRP3 is one of the inflammatory disease targets that figures in the ketogenic diet. The ketones produced by a high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet theoretically at least tamp down on NLRP3, which plays on the IL-1β pathway, spurring the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Another connection: Novartis’ heart drug canakinumab broadly targets IL-1β, and has demonstrated its efficacy in a large population of patients. More recently, it’s also proved its anti-inflammatory qualities in a late-stage study of gout.

Watt believes that the biotech can do something important with a targeted small molecule, though, which could prove far more attractive in inflammatory conditions than an antibody — where you could get brain penetration — that tackles all of IL-1β.

NodThera is a tiny little group with 5 expert staffers, but they still have a global reach, with key execs in Boston and Seattle. This new money should be enough to get through a proof-of-concept stage with a lead drug. That will likely occupy a three or 4 year time frame.

Sofinnova Partners and 5AM Ventures led this second close for the company, with Epidarex Capital and F-Prime Capital Partners jumping into the syndicate. Epidarex seeded the biotech two years ago based on work done by Selvita, a Polish drug discovery company which now has a stake in NodThera. Henrijette Richter, managing partner of Sofinnova Partners and Scott Rocklage, founding partner of 5AM Ventures, are joining the board while Richter will serve as chair.

“I really believe that there are important meds going to come out of this work,” says Watt. And he’s staking the next chapter of his career on it.

Image: Aerial view of Cambridge, UK Shutterstock

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