Engrail Therapeutics nabs $32M series A for CNS work

San Diego-based biotech Engrail Therapeutics has raised $32 million as it looks to kick-start its first clinical work for its central nervous system med.

Nan Fung Life Sciences (NFLS), the global investment platform of the Nan Fung Group, led the round, which will see the cash funneled into its first pipeline asset, ENX-101, a sub-type selective GABA-A modulator. On top of this, it’s also looking to beef up its pipeline with more asset deals penciled in for the future.

The biotech, which launched last year, says it wants to buy up more assets with “validated mechanisms, ultimately catalyzing a diverse portfolio of therapies to treat diseases of the nervous system.” Its business model includes licensing, co-development and company buyouts—big ambitions for such a young startup.

Vikram Sudarsan, Ph.D., CEO and president of Engrail, said the cash should be there for its ambitious plans. “With these resources and a long-term commitment from NFLS to invest $1.5 billion in the life sciences sector, we will leverage our unique, flexible transaction model to build a world-class neuroscience company,” he said in a release.

Neuroscience is a notoriously tough R&D area, however, with billions of research dollars spent and lost on projects that simply couldn’t make the grade, especially in areas like Alzheimer’s disease.

Sudarsan, former chief at Cipla Technologies before it was bought by Pulmatrix last year, is confident the industry may be past the peak of these failures.

“Neuroscience is making massive strides. As the brain’s complexities and molecular mechanisms have become clearer, we are better able to identify disease targets, which has also a supported a resurgence in funding neuroscience drug development," he said.

“These factors have contributed to recent clinical and commercial success across the industry. However, significant unmet needs persist, placing immense disease burden on patients. Our goal is to build a leading neuroscience company fueled by a robust pipeline. We are focused on the acquisition, development and commercialization of patient-centric neuroscience therapeutics. ENX-101 represents the first milestone in this effort.”

Just what it will be leading is being kept under wraps; Its MAO, GABA, is however the major inhibitory transmitter controlling synaptic transmission and neuronal excitability. It is present in a high percentage of neurons in the CNS and also present in the peripheral nervous system, and it acts to maintain a balance between excitation and inhibition.

A number of targets have been in development using this approach including epilepsy, anxiety and sleep disorders.