Neurodegenerative disease startup QurAlis has extended the seed round it first announced this past April, bringing its total funding up to $5.5 million.
Based on the work of a pair of Harvard University professors and their labs, QurAlis' stem-cell disease models are derived from ALS patients to help identify potential precision treatments. It previously collected an undisclosed amount of cash from Amgen Ventures, MP Healthcare Venture Management and Alexandria Venture Investments.
In addition, the startup recently won a “golden ticket” competition, sponsored by Pfizer, for a coveted spot at LabCentral in Cambridge, Massachusetts, including access to equipped and permitted lab space, plus prepaid rent for one year.
Separately, QurAlis was also accepted as a resident company in Johnson & Johnson Innovation's JLABS no-strings-attached incubator program, also at the LabCentral location, to help it advance its preclinical research in ALS and frontotemporal dementia.
“ALS, the most common motor neuron disease, is not a single disease but a spectrum of disorders with varying underlying mechanisms,” said Kasper Roet, Ph.D., CEO of QurAlis.
“Thanks to the progress in human genetics and mechanistic understanding of the disease, we now know of over 25 genes that are related to ALS, with many of them also related to the formation of FTD,” said Roet, who was previously a research fellow at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.
Roet worked on motor neuron projects with the labs of Clifford Woolf, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the neuroscience program of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and Kevin Eggan, Ph.D., professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, who both helped found QurAlis, along with Roet and Jonathan Fleming, CEO of Eggan’s stem cell-focused Q-State Biosciences.
One of QurAlis’ programs has identified the Kv7 channel activator retigabine as a possible ALS treatment, while another aims to restore autophagy pathways.
In the seed funding extension, BioInnovation Capital and Viva Biotech joined QurAlis’ previous investors. It also named MP Healthcare President Jeffrey Moore, D.Phil., and BioInnovation general partner Johannes Fruehauf, M.D., Ph.D., as members of its board of directors.
“ALS is a devastating disease and it strikes all too often. Today, when a young, seemingly healthy person receives an ALS diagnosis—he or she will have a predicted life expectancy of only about three years,” said Fruehauf, who is also co-founder and president of LabCentral.
QurAlis previously won a golden ticket to LabCentral in a competition sponsored by Amgen in 2017.
“My partners and I have followed QurAlis’ progress closely during its time at LabCentral,” Fruehauf said. “We believe their novel approach has the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, just as the antiviral therapies did for HIV in the late 1990s; we are excited to provide our support and expertise to help propel the company forward.”
Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original version. The Pfizer-sponsored LabCentral golden ticket did not grant entry into J&J's JLABS program. Instead, the two were issued separately.