Karuna's captains set sail in new neuropsychiatric venture called Seaport Therapeutics

Just months after Bristol Myers Squibb boarded Karuna Therapeutics for its much-hyped schizophrenia drug, the biotech’s leadership has set sail in a new venture.

Seaport Therapeutics is captained by CEO Daphne Zohar, a co-founder of Karuna, with Karuna’s former CEO Steven Paul, M.D., serving as the chair of Seaport’s board of directors. The biotech has been assembled by PureTech Health—where Zohar is also CEO—and supplied with $100 million for its mission to advance a pipeline of medicines targeting depression, anxiety and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

The oversubscribed $100 million series A round was co-led by Arch Venture Partners and Sofinnova Investments, with Third Rock Ventures and PureTech Health also joining the financing voyage.

Seaport’s pipeline is centered on its Glyph platform, which focuses on the lymphatic system to create new medicines “building on clinically validated mechanisms,” the company explained in an April 9 release. The platform is designed to enhance the bioavailability of oral drugs by reducing their metabolism in the body before they reach their intended target. This should, in turn, reduce hepatotoxicity and other side effects.

The financing will accelerate the development of Seaport's clinical-stage pipeline and Glyph platform, the company said. 

Leading Seaport’s armada of candidates is SPT-300, a prodrug of allopregnanolone—a naturally occurring neurosteroid that is marketed as Zulresso as an injection to treat postpartum depression. The biotech has used the Glyph platform to retain allopregnanolone’s potency while delivering it as an oral drug. A phase 2a trial has validated this proof of concept, said Seaport, which hopes to develop SPT-300 as a treatment for anxious depression.

Seaport is also working on SPT-320, a prodrug of agomelatine—an antidepressant available in Europe as Valdoxan but not approved by the FDA. The company hopes its Glyph platform can lower the dose needed for the drug’s effectiveness by reducing its metabolism in the liver and therefore removing the need for liver function monitoring.

The other candidate Seaport name-checked in the release is also a prodrog, this time a non-hallucinogenic neuroplastogen being developed for the treatment of mood and other neuropsychiatric disorders. The company also alluded to various discovery and preclinical-stage programs it has in the works.

Seaport’s leadership has been buoyed by the fate of Karuna, which was acquired by BMS for $14 billion in December so the Big Pharma could get its hands on what looks set to be the first new type of schizophrenia treatment approved in more than 50 years.

“Major depression and anxiety disorders are among the most common, disabling and potentially fatal of all medical conditions,” said Paul, the former CEO of Karuna, who also served as president of R&D at Eli Lilly.

“Seaport’s pipeline of investigational antidepressants and anxiolytics are well positioned to more effectively treat these disorders and to help millions of people and their families,” he added in the release. “Given the historically low success rates within neuropsychiatric drug development, precisely solving the previous limitations of clinically validated mechanisms improves the probability of success and enables us to significantly accelerate development.”