Johns Hopkins startup Neuraly plans phase 1 Parkinson’s trial with $36M round

A nurse holding the hands of an elderly patient
Neuraly's lead, brain-penetrating compound is from a class of GLP-1R agonists, which has already seen approvals for Type 2 diabetes. (Getty/Rawpixel)

A new startup from Johns Hopkins has launched with $36 million in financing in the pursuit of disease-modifying agents for Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

The Germantown, Maryland-based company’s pipeline is built around NLY01, a long-acting glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist that penetrates the brain and has shown promise as a neuroprotective agent.

The class of GLP-1R agonists has an established safety profile, with certain treatments already approved for Type 2 diabetes, said Neuraly, which plans to begin a phase 1 trial of NLY01 before the end of the year.

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“Currently, there aren’t any treatments that reverse, stop, or even slow neurodegeneration in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” said Seulki Lee, Ph.D., Neuraly’s founder and CEO, in a release. “The treatments that do exist—all symptomatic—provide only temporary improvement in motor and cognitive function, but even these become less effective over time. We believe that the science supports NLY01 as a potential disease-modifying therapy capable of slowing the progression of disease.”

Neuraly’s pipeline also includes two candidates in early development targeting complementary mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases.

The series A funding round was backed by several South Korean VC funds and investors, including D&D Pharmatech, Smilegate Investment, InterVest, LB Investment, Magna Investment, Geon Investment and Dongkoo Bio&Pharma. Two U.S.-based funds, Octave Life Sciences and Maryland Venture Fund, also participated.

RELATED: Johns Hopkins researchers reveal novel protein and involvement in Parkinson’s disease

First formed in 2016, Neuraly is based on research led by Johns Hopkins’ Ted Dawson, M.D., Ph.D., the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Professor in Neurodegenerative Diseases and director of the university’s Institute for Cell Engineering. Recent research exploring the role of the glial compartment of neural tissue in the progression of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases showed that activated microglial cells can cause toxic effects in the affected areas. Published in Nature Medicine, the paper described how NLY01 was found to prevent neuronal cell death by inhibiting microglial activation and the formation of other neurotoxic cells in animal models—slowing disease progression and improving lifespan, cognitive and motor functions in mice with Parkinson’s disease.

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“We expect NLY01 to be a pioneering treatment for Parkinson’s with low development risks as we have seen unprecedented efficacy in preclinical models and well-characterized safety profiles in a similar class of molecules,” said Viktor Roschke, Ph.D., Neuraly’s co-founder and chief scientific officer, in the release.

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