Alzheimer’s disease startup Cortexyme was able to round up $76 million in funding for a potentially first-in-class treatment, while other companies are looking to move away from the field.
The healthy sum comes after the company completed an early safety study of its lead protease inhibitor, COR388, which instead targets a bacterial infection in the brain that it believes causes the degenerative symptoms of the disease. It plans to launch a phase 2 trial next year to try to prove the drug’s efficacy.
Cortexyme’s new investors in the series B round included Sequoia Capital, Vulcan Capital, Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences, EPIQ Capital Group, RSL Investments, Huizenga Capital and an unnamed mutual fund. They joined previous funders Pfizer, Takeda Ventures, Lamond Family, Breakout Ventures and Dolby Family Ventures.
Pfizer, for one, recently started backing out of its neuroscience projects, including in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The big pharma dropped preclinical, early and midstage research programs, and cut around 300 jobs earlier this year.
At the time, Pfizer said it would set up a CNS-focused venture capital fund for external projects and may even license out the compounds in its portfolio for development. The company also canceled development of a compound for Huntington’s disease the year before.
And earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen arm ended clinical trials for its BACE inhibitor atabacestat, following liver safety issues in late-onset Alzheimer’s patients. However, Janssen said it “continues to maintain a strong commitment to discovering and developing new treatments for this devastating disease.”
Meanwhile, Roivant Sciences’ spinout, Axovant, recently came out with negative results in a phase 2b trial of intepirdine in Lewy body dementia. Following a string of clinical failures, Axovant CEO David Hung, M.D., resigned in February. The company had acquired intepirdine, a 5-HT6 inhibitor, from GlaxoSmithKline for just $5 million upfront in 2014.
By contrast, Cortexyme’s COR388 targets a pathogen discovered in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients by the startup’s co-founder and chief scientific officer, Stephen Dominy, M.D., and employs a different mechanism of action compared to broad-spectrum antibiotics.
“Alzheimer’s has been a major medical and societal challenge for decades, and new approaches are clearly needed,” said Michael Dixon, a partner at Sequoia Capital, in a release. “Cortexyme is approaching an old problem in a whole new way—moving upstream to target an underlying driver of disease.”
In the company’s phase 1 safety study launched in January, COR388 was well-tolerated by healthy volunteers aged 20 to 70, in single-ascending and multiple-ascending doses compared to placebo. The company said it also noted favorable pharmacokinetics and tissue distribution when given orally.
“Our streamlined, efficient approach to drug development allowed us to move from seed funding to phase 1 data in less than four years,” co-founder and CEO Casey Lynch said in a statement. “We’re committed to continuing to move swiftly through phase 2 proof of efficacy studies in service of bringing new therapies to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and related conditions.”