Eli Lilly, Bayer, Merck join Mozart's chorus to the tune of $55M, as it launches into allegro phase

Mozart Therapeutics takes the name of one of the most well-known composers in history. The startup has big shoes to fill. (MissVine/Pixabay)

Mozart's resonance down the ages has gone beyond the musical sphere and into life sciences as a new biotech startup names itself after him 230 years following his death, bringing in backers from the likes of Eli Lilly, Merck, Bayer and multiple VC shops for the eponymous Mozart Therapeutics with $55 million to go after Tregs. 

Time will tell whether Mozart Therapeutics can make a name for itself like Wolfgang did, nor is it expected that the biotech's first movement will be as brisk and lively of a tempo as the allegro of any of the composer's symphonies. But, the startup does have a big name investor group to launch it: Lilly, Merck's early-stage fund, Leaps by Bayer, Sofinnova, ARCH Venture Partners and others.

The Seattle-based biotech originates in the lab of Mark Davis, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Institute for Immunology, Transplantation and Infection. Davis' work focuses on how CD8 T regulatory cells play a central part in the surveillance, recognition and elimination of certain immune cells that cause autoimmune and inflammatory disease, Mozart said Tuesday.

Davis' lab has shown, in mouse studies, that CD8 T cells can kill immune cells that cause multiple sclerosis. For its part, Mozart's first focus is celiac disease, which means people can't eat gluten because of its damage to their small intestine. Also on the agenda is a potential treatment for inflammatory bowel disease and a third undisclosed condition.

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Tregs, which find unwanted inflammatory and autoimmune responses with the goal of shutting them down, have seen their fair share of investor interest lately.

Egle Therapeutics banked $46 million last week for cancer and autoimmune diseases. GentiBio reeled in $157 million for Type 1 diabetes in August and Sonoma Bio secured $265 million that same month for arthritis and diabetes. And, in June, Abata Therapeutics emerged with $95 million to go after multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes and other diseases. 

Directing the orchestra at Mozart is Katie Fanning, a biotech veteran who was previously CEO of Nohla Therapeutics, a cancer cell therapy company that has since fallen off the radar after clinical trial terminations. Prior to that stint, Fanning was chief operating officer at VentiRx, which was quietly acquired by Celgene in 2017.

The all-women management team is also led by Chief Scientific Officer Kristine Swiderek, Ph.D., and Vice President of Discovery & Translational Science Courtney Crane, Ph.D. Swiderek was previously senior VP of research at Alpine Immune Sciences and Crane joined from University of Washington, where she was an associate professor leading a research team focused on cell therapy platforms using gene-edited natural killer cells.