Biogen, Genentech and F-Prime power new neurodegenerative biotech to $110M unveiling

Atalanta Therapeutics has broken cover with $110 million from a series A round and partnerships with Biogen and Genentech. The biotech secured the deals and funding on the strength of evidence it can durably silence genes in the brain.

Research into the genetics of neurodegenerative diseases has pointed to new, better ways to address unmet medical needs. However, difficulties getting molecules into the brain and ensuring they have durable effects once in situ have limited researchers’ ability to turn the genetic knowledge into drug candidates.

Atalanta is built on a therapeutic approach that could enable sustained gene silencing in the central nervous system (CNS). The origin of the biotech dates back to a 2019 Nature Biotechnology paper, which described the creation of two siRNAs connected by a linker. 

In mice, the molecules, known as divalent siRNA (di-siRNA), silenced the huntingtin gene that causes Huntington’s disease for at least six months. The researchers also showed di-siRNA distribution and gene silencing in the brains and spinal cords of nonhuman primates. 

The research led to the formation of Atalanta, which has quietly secured funding and partnerships to build on the findings. F-Prime Capital provided all the series A funding. Biogen and Genentech put up more money to enter into partnerships with Atalanta.

Biogen has signed up to work with Atalanta on treatments for Huntington’s and other CNS disorders the partners are yet to disclose publicly. The Genentech agreement covers multiple targets for CNS diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In both cases, Atalanta is in line to receive milestones and royalties, in addition to upfronts that contributed to the $110 million it has pulled in to date.

Alicia Secor, last seen leading Juniper Pharmaceuticals to a takeover by Catalent, has come on board as CEO of Atalanta. Secor is joined in the C-suite by Aimee Jackson, who took up the chief scientific officer post after six years at miRagen Therapeutics.

The management team is supported by three experts who co-founded the company and now serve as its scientific advisers. Two of the advisers, Neil Aronin, M.D., and Anastasia Khvorova, Ph.D., co-authored the Nature paper. The third adviser, Craig Mello, Ph.D., was a co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of RNAi.