Arch Venture Partners has taken the lid off its big bet on neuroscience. Having quietly put the startup together over the past 18 months, Thursday Arch unveiled Neumora Therapeutics—a biotech that starts life with $500 million, a collaboration with Amgen and a pipeline of eight prospects.
Neumora represents a test of the idea that neuroscience is on the cusp of the sort of rapid progress that has transformed oncology in recent years. If Neumora is right, recent advances in genomics and neurobiology have set the stage for more targeted modulation of the underlying biology of specific brain diseases, just as the oncology field has gone from targeting organs to zeroing in on molecularly defined diseases.
“We recognized an opportunity to build a proprietary toolbox of state-of-the-art neural network technologies, which uniquely positions us to pioneer a new era in precision medicines for brain diseases by integrating data science and neuroscience,” Lori Lyons-Williams, chief operating officer at Neumora, said.
Armed with the platform, Neumora aims to “match the right patients to targeted therapeutics,” Lyons-Williams said, enabling it to de-risk clinical trials and improve outcomes for patients. Unlike most newly unveiled biotechs, Neumora is already in a position to start putting its ideas to the test in the clinic.
The startup begins life with a pipeline of eight candidates, two of which are in the clinic, and more than $500 million to fund their development. Most of the money comes from an Arch-led syndicate.
Some of the assets, targeting casein kinase 1 delta and glucocerebrosidase, and $100 million of the cash come from Amgen, which pulled out of neuroscience R&D in 2019. The Big Biotech’s retreat from the hard-to-crack therapeutic area opened the door to a deal with Neumora. Amgen will use its deCODE genetics and human data research capabilities to feed insights into Neumora’s precision neuroscience platform.
Neumora put together the rest of the pipeline by rolling up privately held companies including BlackThorn Therapeutics. Arch led a $40 million series A round in BlackThorn in 2016 and went on to participate in a $76 million series B in 2019. The rounds positioned BlackThorn, under the leadership of a team featuring Paul Berns, to advance targeted therapeutics for mental health.
BlackThorn is now part of Neumora, and Berns is CEO of the combined company, slotting in at the head of a C-suite that features John Dunlop, Ph.D., formerly of Amgen, in the chief scientific officer role. Other posts are filled by former employees of companies including Alexion and BlackThorn. As it stands, BlackThorn is still listed as the sponsor of a phase 2 clinical trial that is testing kappa opioid receptor antagonist BTRX-335140 in patients with major depressive disorder. The 180-subject study is scheduled to wrap up next summer, according to ClinicalTrials.gov.
BTRX-335140, now known as NMRA-140, is joined in Neumora’s clinical-phase pipeline by NMRA-511, a selective V1aR antagonist that is in phase 1 development as a treatment of anxiety disorders. Neumora’s preclinical pipeline addresses sleep, neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.
Building a pipeline that has mental health programs alongside drugs targeting neurodegenerative diseases sets Neumora apart from most of its predecessors. However, while acknowledging that the industry has historically kept neuropsychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases separate, Lyons-Williams thinks current knowledge supports a more unified approach.
“The reality is that these are all diseases of one organ, the brain, and there are mechanistic overlaps and comorbidities across these diseases. We believe our multi-modal data science approach captures unique insights across a range of disease drivers including genetic, imaging and clinical that can be applicable across brain diseases,” Lyons-Williams said.
Neumora will soon be in a position to start delivering some early wins, or losses. Data drops on the two clinical programs are planned for 2022 and 2023, Lyons-Williams said, and multiple INDs are on the schedule for the next few years. Neumora plans to advance the pipeline prospects while building out its platform, including by adding more data sets and expanding its data science efforts.