Versant spinout lands $80M to go 'much broader' than the old Roche partnership that birthed it
About three years after splitting from Versant Ventures’ discovery group, Pipeline Therapeutics has landed an $80 million Series C round to go “much broader” than the Roche-partnered program that birthed it.
Versant announced Pipeline’s launch in 2018, four years after Roche agreed to pay the research tab at Versant’s Inception Sciences for remyelination work in multiple sclerosis. Remyelination involves a repair to the nerve damage that causes MS. Roche took over one of the programs, called Inception 5, and the team that helped develop it was spun out into Pipeline, including current CSO Daniel Lorrain.
“When that was done, the aspirations for Pipeline were broader than that,” CEO Carmine Stengone said of Roche’s Inception 5 acquisition. “The framework was around remyelination to start, but the vision for the company was much broader.”
Pipeline is continuing the remyelination work in MS, but also expanding into axonal repair and synaptogenesis. Their lead candidate, PIPE-505, focuses on the latter.
PIPE-505 is currently enrolling patients in a Phase I/IIa study for sensorineural hearing loss, which affects upwards of 40 to 45 million people in the US, according to Stengone. The neurodegenerative condition is characterized by two main hearing problems, the first of which is outer hair cell degeneration.
As you lose outer hair cells, you lose volume control, meaning everything’s quieter, Stengone said. There’s less speech clarity and less amplification. But in Stengone’s opinion, that’s not where the most unmet need is. The biggest complaint patients have is that they can’t hear when there’s background noise. And to address that, one must look to the cochlear synapse.
The cochlear synapse connects the auditory nerve fibers to the inner hair cells, and over time — either due to age or prolonged noise exposure — there’s a retraction of that synapse, Stengone explained.
“What we’re doing with PIPE-505 is re-engaging guidance cues that allow for that synapse to reach out that 500 microns to fully form that circuit. And once you restore the cochlear synapse, you should have an improvement in speech and noise processing,” the CEO said.
There are currently no drugs approved for SNHL, meaning patients are limited to hearing aids and cochlear implants, which don’t quite address the underpinnings of hearing loss. The burgeoning field includes Frequency Therapeutics, which read out longer-term durability data to back its SNHL candidate, which uses progenitor cells, in September. The new data build on Phase I/II results released in 2019. Then there’s Akouos, which scored a $105 million Series B a year ago to take its lead SNHL candidate to the clinic. And Decibel Therapeutics, another Boston-based company, has an SNHL program in the discovery phase.
Pipeline’s second candidate, a remyelination program for MS dubbed PIPE-307, recently entered Phase I. They’ve also got an LPA1 receptor antagonist program for remyelination and neuroinflammation, for which they’re looking to nominate a development candidate in mid-2021.
In addition to advancing the pipeline, Stengone plans on using Series C funds to bulk up Pipeline’s staff. The 22-person company is looking at four new hires in the near term, he said.
As for the possibility of going public in the near future, Stengone said, “We’ll consider all financing options going forward, but nothing that we would lock ourselves down to at this point.”