Alzheimer's-focused M3 Biotechnology rebrands as Athira Pharma

Seattle-based M3 Biotechnology has changed its name to Athira Pharma, derived from the Arabic word meaning “a force” or “an energy,” which the company says aligns with its focus on developing regenerative therapies for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

Athira aims to restore the lost neural connections in the brain, or spur the growth of new ones, starting with its small molecule candidate NDX-1017—currently undergoing its first-in-human trial in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or mild cognitive impairments in the U.S. and France.

The company plans to launch a phase 2 proof-of-concept study before the end of 2019 to examine the drug’s long-term safety and other exploratory endpoints. Meanwhile, preliminary results from the ongoing, placebo-controlled phase 1 study will be presented at a scientific conference midyear, Athira said.

"Throughout our development efforts, we are maintaining a constant awareness of the individuals we hope to positively impact with our treatments," President and CEO Leen Kawas said in a statement. "We believe we need to work together to implement trials that are people-focused and strive to make treatments that are impactful and accessible."

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Early preclinical studies showed the drug was able to build new neural connections in rats—a different approach compared to therapies targeting amyloid plaque buildups in the brain. Those attempts have seen several high-profile failures over the years, most recently with Biogen and Eisai’s phase 3 aducanumab program.

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The former M3 had received assistance for its early clinical trials from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation—going forward, Athira’s phase 2 trials will be supported in part by the Alzheimer’s Association under its Part the Cloud grant program and an initiative aimed at reversing brain cell degeneration at its earliest stages.