Inversago Pharma reeled in a $7 million series A round to move a suite of next-generation cannabinoid receptor-1 (CB1) blockers into the clinic. The Montreal-based startup is developing the drugs for Prader-Willi syndrome, as well as metabolic disorders including diabetes.
Other companies have developed CB1 inhibitors for metabolic conditions. While they were able to cross the blood-brain barrier and showed "striking efficacy" in the clinic, these drugs worked in the central nervous system (CNS), leading "to psychiatric adverse events which caused the termination of all first generation CB1 inverse agonist programs," Inversago said in a statement.
Inversago is working on CB1 blockers whose action is restricted to the peripheral CB1 receptors. The hope is they will be able to treat conditions, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and fibrosis without causing behavioral or CNS side effects.
“The clear demonstration of peripheral action with very low brain occupancy shapes the path toward the reinstated first-in-class therapeutics for several unmet medical needs,” added Elizabeth Douville, managing partner at AmorChem, which co-led the financing alongside Genesys Capital. The JDRF T1D Fund, Accel-Rx, Anges Québec Capital, Anges Québec, Tarnagulla Ventures and angel investors also participated.
“JDRF has long recognized the potential of CB1 blockade for Type 1 diabetes, as a potential first β-cell targeted therapy for this condition. We are excited to invest and strategically support Inversago as it develops new oral drugs which have the potential to be a game-changer for the community,” said Jonathan Behr, managing director at the JDRF T1D Fund.
Others are working on cannabinoid receptor-aimed drugs, as well as cannabinoid-based treatments.
Arena Pharmaceutical is targeting another cannabinoid receptor—its olorinab is an orally available agonist of the CB2 receptor. It is in the clinic for the treatment of pain associated with Crohn's disease.
And GW Pharma's Epidiolex, a purified form of cannabidiol, became the first cannabis-based drug to get the FDA nod. However, GW's ability to market the drug in the U.S. depends on the Drug Enforcement Administration reclassifying cannabidiol, the active ingredient of Epidiolex and the component of cannabis that does not cause users to feel "high."
As it stands, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, meaning the DEA deems it to have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."
Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that Inversago's treatments target cannabinoid receptors, but are not cannabis-based.