Newcomer Appello raises $10.5M for new Vanderbilt Parkinson’s drug

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In preclinical models of Parkinson’s, researchers from Vanderbilt found the drug relieved motor symptoms, including rigidity and freezing of certain muscles. (Pixabay)

Appello Pharmaceuticals raised $10.5 million to fund development of a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease licensed from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery.

Led by Deerfield Management and Mountain Group Partners, the series A investment will support the startup’s research in positive allosteric modulators of metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 4, which controls glutamate and GABA transmission in the brain.

While the current standard, dopamine replacement therapy, aims to relieve some motor symptoms of the disease, it can cause debilitating side effects over time such as involuntary movements called dyskinesia, the Nashville, Tennessee-based company said in a statement. Its benefits can also decrease over the long term.

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Instead, the mGlu4 modulators work to control the neurotransmitter glutamate. In preclinical models of Parkinson’s, the drug relieved motor symptoms, including rigidity and freezing of certain muscles. Vanderbilt’s drug discovery center previously received backing from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

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“These compounds have some unique properties and carry with them the potential to change the way Parkinson’s patients are treated,” said P. Jeffrey Conn, Vanderbilt center director and Lee E. Limbird professor of Pharmacology, who joined Appello’s board of directors.

In addition to Conn and Appello President and COO Brian Laden, the company’s board of directors includes Joe Cook Jr., managing director of MGP, who will serve as executive chairman; Vaughn Bryson, former president and CEO of Eli Lilly; and Deerfield partners Howie Furst and William Slattery.

“We are pleased to be partnering with the Appello team to develop a novel way to improve the lives of Parkinson’s patients while also continuing to strengthen the Deerfield relationship with Vanderbilt,” Slattery said.

RELATED: Lundbeck to buy Prexton for phase 2 Parkinson’s drug

Lundbeck recently paid about $123 million upfront to purchase Prexton Therapeutics and its phase 2 mGluR4 modulator foliglurax designed to improve long-term symptom control of dopaminergic agents. Prexton believes its foliglurax may reduce the “off” times when levodopa is unable to control symptoms and help manage levodopa-induced dyskinesia.

Last year, Prexton—a Geneva-based spinout launched by Merck Serono—raised about $31 million in a series B round to fund two larger clinical studies of foliglurax.