Four months after inking its first Big Pharma partnership, Cerevance is topping up its coffers with a $45 million raise. The proceeds will push the company’s lead Parkinson’s disease program through phase 2 and move several earlier-stage prospects into the clinic.
The funding comes from GV, Bill Gates and Foresite Capital, which joined the Dementia Discovery Fund and Cerevance’s founding investors, Takeda Ventures and Lightstone Ventures, in the series B. The company decided to close the round in light of uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could do a second close to reel in another $15 million, CEO Brad Margus told FierceBiotech.
“The next time we raise money, we will be a very different-looking company, with one program finished with phase 2 plus four more in the clinic—all against really novel targets for CNS [central nervous system] diseases,” Margus said. “They’re not me-toos, or repositioning [older drugs] or things like that.”
Cerevance’s pipeline is based on its NETSseq platform, which performs target discovery in human tissue from brain banks around the world. By studying donated tissue from healthy people, as well as those who suffered from CNS disorders like Huntington, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, Cerevance doesn’t need to worry about translating findings from lab dishes and animal models to people.
The Boston-based biotech is mining neurons and microglia—the immune cells of the brain—for genes that might be missed using other techniques. It’s looking specifically for proteins that are expressed only in certain kinds of cells so it can treat neuroinflammation without tamping down the inflammatory response elsewhere in the body and causing side effects.
Its Parkinson’s program is in a phase 2 study involving 15 sites, Margus said. Despite potential delays from the COVID-19 pandemic, the company thinks it will have an efficacy readout in the fall. As for its preclinical programs, it’s pursuing six prospects and aims to add another six, Margus added.
Cerevance teamed up with Takeda last December to identify targets in the CNS to develop new treatments for gastrointestinal disorders. It hopes to strike a few more deals this year so it can go after diseases it couldn’t tackle on its own.