Pfizer, SV give GSK spinout money to expand into schizophrenia research

Autifony Therapeutics has returned to Pfizer Venture Investments, SV Life Sciences and its other investors for £8 million ($12 million) to fund a broadening of its R&D ambitions. The company, which spun out of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) with an age-related hearing loss program in 2011, is now going after schizophrenia. 

Autifony Therapeutics CEO Charles Large

London, U.K.-based Autifony will use the money to push a schizophrenia program into the clinic later this year, at which point it will have three trials underway. A clutch of big-name investors have helped Autifony reach this point, with Pfizer's ($PFE) VC unit and SV Life Sciences being joined in the most recent round by Imperial Innovations (AIM:IVO) and UCL Business. The investors have all seen potential in Autifony's research into Kv3 voltage-gated potassium channels, first to treat auditory dysfunctions and now as a source of targets for schizophrenia drugs.

The sideways leap into schizophrenia is underpinned by research suggesting Kv3 channels play a role in neurological and psychiatric disorders. In this context, the channels are known to be involved with the control mechanism for parvalbumin-positive interneurons, a part of the central nervous system that is thought to stop functioning normally in people with schizophrenia. If Autifony's drug can modulate the Kv3 channels to fix the functioning of the interneurons, it might be able to improve health outcomes for people with the mental disorder.

Autifony has been digging into the idea for a while now and has enough preclinical data in the bank to persuade its existing investors and the government to open their checkbooks. The government cash--which was doled out by the Biomedical Catalyst program--is earmarked for the schizophrenia trial, but Autifony has more expansive plans for the venture investment. Some of the cash will go toward the schizophrenia trial, with the rest being pumped into a study of Autifony's lead asset in patients with a cochlear implant and R&D into other indications in which Kv3 channels are involved.

- read the release (PDF)