Alpna Seth, Ph.D., the Biogen veteran who ushered Tecfidera from the clinic to commercial launch, is back in the neuro space. After a couple of years as Vir Biotechnology’s chief operating officer, she’s taking the wheel at Nura Bio, a company working on neuroprotective drugs that could be useful for a range of conditions from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to Alzheimer’s disease.
Nura is launching with $73 million in series A funding from The Column Group, Samsara BioCapital and Euclidean Capital that will propel its lead program, an SARM1 inhibitor, toward the clinic. It will also support multiple discovery-stage programs against different targets. Nura’s early pipeline is based on the work of its scientific co-founders Marc Freeman, Ph.D., of Oregon Health and Science University, and Steven McKnight, Ph.D., of UT Southwestern.
The company is going after pathways like SARM1 to directly address the causes of neurodegeneration: “What really motivates us is that it is a very underserved space. If you look at even the disease-modifying therapies, out there, a vast number of diseases are still such a great unmet need,” Seth told Fierce Biotech. “There is still no truly neuroprotective therapy—a lot are coming at it in an indirect way.”
SARM1 is an enzyme that drives the degeneration of axons, or nerve fibers—an early hallmark of several neurodegenerative diseases. It’s “quite central” to axonal degeneration, Seth said, and acts as a metabolic regulator, “almost like a switch.” Stopping it early could change the course of neurological diseases that affect the brain, peripheral nervous system and eyes.
The company is keeping specific indications under wraps, but a SARM1 blocker could come in handy against neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
“Early intervention is quite critical—once nerve function is lost, it is very, very difficult to regain,” Seth said. Targeting SARM1 could be used to prevent a nerve injury from occurring or to stop an injury that’s already started happening from getting worse, she added.
Nura isn’t just looking to prevent neuron loss. The second prong of its strategy takes aim at the axis between neurons and glia, non-neuronal cells that, among other things, play a role in the immune response within the central nervous system. Restoring the function of the interplay between these cells could boost the nervous system’s immune response to neurological injury.
Now, with a series A in hand, Nura will pursue this two-pronged strategy and move its programs forward as quickly as it can. Given the broad applicability of the SARM1 program, the company is open to teaming up with pharma partners when it makes sense, but its focus right now is on progressing the pipeline and growing the company, Seth said.