Afferent executives launch next-generation neuro hopeful, gaining Johnson & Johnson backing

Blue purple pink 3d rendering of brain
The biotech is looking to tackle neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. (monsitj/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

CuraSen Therapeutics has pulled off a $54.5 million series A funding round as it gains big-name backing to help tackle neurodegenerative disorders.

The San Mateo, California-based biotech saw its impressive first round led by New Leaf Venture Partners, as well help from Longitude Capital and Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

Meanwhile, co-founder Anthony Ford has been named CEO, while Kathleen Sereda Glaub, also a co-founder, will serve as executive chair for the company’s board of directors. Both previously worked at Afferent Pharmaceuticals: Ford as CSO, and Glaub as chief.

The company was working on its lead program for chronic cough, while also developing other P2X3 antagonists for other neurogenic disorders. It was bought out by Big Pharma Merck for $1.25 billion back in 2016.

Now, two years later, Ford and Glaub are back, focusing on the neuro side: Their new venture is developing small molecule drugs targeting a mechanism in the brain to ease disabling symptoms and alter disease pathology in patients who suffer from relatively rare neurodegenerative disorders, as well as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

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Specifically, CuraSen is working on drugs that are designed to activate certain receptor populations in the brain to compensate for critical neuronal and glial functions that have otherwise been lost due to degeneration.

Research by Mehrdad Shamloo is the foundation for CuraSen’s programs, and was originally licensed from Stanford University. They will need the cash, and no small amount of luck, to tackle this area, most notably AD, which has been a research graveyard for Big Pharma and small biotechs alike for the past 15 years.  

“We have demonstrated in a number of models of Alzheimer’s Disease that restoring certain functionality in the brain results in a profound effect in this disease, including significant improvement in learning and memory with both acute and chronic treatment, significant reductions in amyloid plaque and tau pathology, and a significant reduction in inflammatory gene expression,” said Shamloo.

Ford added: “This financing allows us to build an industry leading team and company to address a number of these diseases for which no effective treatments are available. CuraSen expects to advance its first program to the clinic by the end of 2019.”