Gene therapy startup bursts forth from incubation at J&J and F-Prime, graduating with $80M and a Novartis veteran at the helm

AviadoBio has come flying out the traps surrounded by A-list names. Incubated at F-Prime Capital and Johnson & Johnson’s JJDC, AviadoBio exited stealth with $80 million from backers such as New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and a C-suite led by Novartis veteran Lisa Deschamps. 

The investors and executives have coalesced around the work Christopher Shaw, Youn Bok Lee, Ph.D., and Do Young Lee, Ph.D., have carried out at King's College London. Shaw’s group is focused on optimizing AAV9 vectors to deliver genes to the central nervous system for the treatment of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

AviadoBio is going after the same indications. The London-based biotech has said the most about its work on FTD, which is spearheaded by a near-clinical AAV gene therapy that is designed to deliver a functional copy of the progranulin gene to slow or stop disease progression.

Researchers identified mutations on the gene as a major cause of familial FTD more than a decade ago, but getting a payload safely to the brain to fix the problem is a potential challenge. Alector, in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline, is studying an intravenous FTD gene therapy in a phase 3 clinical trial, but other groups think a different delivery method is needed. 

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Passage Bio has come up with a potential solution, injecting its FTD gene therapy into the cisterna magna, one of the spaces surrounding the brain. That prospect moved into phase 1 early this year. AviadoBio is working on a rival prospect, AVB-PGRN, that is given via intrathalamic delivery, enabling it to concentrate the gene therapy on the cells where it is needed. 

The series A funding will equip AviadoBio to take AVB-PGRN into the clinic. NEA co-led the round with Monograph Capital. LSP and seed investors Advent Life Sciences, Dementia Discovery Fund, F-Prime, JJDC and LifeArc rounded at the syndicate. 

Responsibility for spending the $80 million will fall on Deschamps, who joined AviadoBio as CEO after a 25-year career at Novartis that culminated in her serving as the chief business officer for its gene therapy unit. In addition to AVB-PGRN, AviadoBio is working on earlier-stage gene knock-down assets given via an undisclosed delivery method to treat ALS and FTD.