Atlas neurological upstart Disarm gains $30M, AbbVie backing

The company uses a semi-virtual organizational model, with work outsourced to CROs.

Disarm Therapeutics has seen a strong $30 million series A round as it looks for a breakthrough approach in axonal degeneration.

The Cambridge, MA-based biotech saw its round led by Atlas Venture, with co-investors Lightstone Ventures and AbbVie Ventures also taking part.

Disarm was co-founded, seeded and incubated last year by Atlas Venture, together with Jeffrey Milbrandt and Aaron DiAntonio of Washington University in St. Louis. Raj Devraj, previously CSO with Atlas company Padlock, is also now CSO at the upstart.

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The preclinical biotech is working on constraining the SARM1 protein and treating neurological diseases by preventing axonal degeneration.

Jason Rhodes, partner at Atlas Venture, and co-founder, chairman and acting CEO of Disarm, tells FierceBiotech: “Our approach is based on a recent discovery by our scientific co-founders.

“Scientists and physicians have long sought to identify the underlying trigger or mechanism driving axonal degeneration because of its early and ongoing role in disability and disease progression. Milbrandt and DiAntonio recently identified that SARM1 possesses intrinsic enzymatic activity that is itself the central driver of axonal degeneration, providing an important new target.

“Preventing degeneration presents opportunities to slow or halt the progression of diseases of the central, ocular and peripheral nervous systems, including multiple sclerosis, ALS, glaucoma and peripheral neuropathies.”

The biotech has licensed exclusive rights to key SARM1 discoveries from Washington University.

Disarm began active R&D in 2016 and has developed a product engine for the discovery of new SARM1 inhibitors. “We have developed translational strategies to non-invasively assess target engagement and to quantify changes in axonal structure and function that will support the generation of early clinical proof-of-concept,” Rhodes explains. Timings have not yet been given.

Disarm works as a semi-virtual organizational model with fewer than 10 internal staff and more than 20 external staff. “This structure affords flexibility to adaptively scale key functions,” says Rhodes, adding: “We are working with the top CROs in the industry, with neuro-specific experience.”