Drug Development, Venture Capital

With help from Novartis and Sanofi, NeuroVia heads to the clinic armed with a $14M round

Giovanni Ferrara

The corporate venture arms of Novartis and Sanofi have joined hands to back a $14 million Series A for a virtual startup called NeuroVia, which has a new drug headed for the clinic designed to tackle rare cases of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy, or X-ALD.

Novartis Venture’s Giovanni Ferrara helped found the company, initially adding a considerable amount to seed the company in 2015 and support the three full timers and platoon of consultants brought in to set things up. Novartis Venture Fund and Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures co-led the $14 million Series A that’s come together, with contributions from BioMed Ventures and Enso Ventures.

The drug is called NV1205, which came out of the lab of Tom Scanlan, now at the OHSU School of Medicine in Portland.

“We knew each other years ago on another project,” Ferrara tells me. “He brought my attention to the molecule under another indication.”

Ferrara doesn’t have much to add on that score, but a report out of OHSU notes that a pharma company had licensed it as a new therapy for lowering cholesterol, then handed it back. Ferrara says the handoff wasn’t due to any clinical shortcomings, noting that at the time the FDA was pointing developers to clear a steep hurdle on outcomes studies.

Scanlan found himself with a considerable amount of research work that had been done in an early-stage project, according to the OHSU piece, but then directed the same molecule to a radically different target.

X-ALD starts when a malfunction of the ABCD1 gene spurs elevated levels of very long chain fatty acids in various tissues. What Scanlan demonstrated in preclinical animal studies is that the drug should enhance the function of the ABCD2 gene which can degrade the VLCFAs.

With the latest tranche of cash, says Ferrara, the company now has enough money to start recruiting patients and put it through a small proof-of-concept study in humans. After that, the biotech can determine how it should move ahead with the program.

There hasn’t been a lot of attention on X-ALD outside of bluebird bio, which has been working on a gene therapy for cerebral ALD, adds Ferrara. And the currently used therapies — primarily bone marrow transplants — leave a lot to be desired.

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