Sage snags $38M from A-list VCs to bankroll its seizure drugs

Sage Therapeutics CEO Jeffrey Jonas

Cambridge, MA's Sage Therapeutics has hauled in a $38 million Series C, convincing a who's-who of biotech investors to pitch in as it pushes forward with a portfolio of central nervous system treatments.

Arch Venture Partners and Third Rock Ventures--which launched Sage in 2011--returned for the latest round, joined by new backers OrbiMed Advisors, EcoR1 Capital Management, Foresite Capital Management and two undisclosed "blue chip" public funds, the biotech said.

With the cash, Sage plans to fund Phase I/II studies for SAGE-547, a drug designed to treat super refractory status epilepticus. The disease is a rare, life-threatening seizure condition with no approved therapies, the company said, affecting roughly 150,000 people in the U.S. and killing about 20,000 each year.

Behind '547, Sage is developing a spate of CNS therapies that modulate the brain's GABAA and NMDA receptors, including preclinical treatments for depression, essential tremor, tinnitus and pain. In keeping with the Third Rock ethos, Sage sees itself less as a startup with a single promising drug candidate than as a product engine with a valuable platform, CEO Jeffrey Jonas.

"We believe SAGE-547 will be the first of several product candidates derived from our platform for the treatment of orphan and genetic seizure disorders," Jonas said in a statement. "We also believe that the mechanisms of action associated with our novel molecules may have application more broadly, in several psychiatric and neurologic disorders."

The CNS field has been littered with costly failures over the past few years, a trend Jonas attributes to poor trial designs, shoddy patient selection and the industry's dogged commitment to programs that long should have been shelved. Sage's plan, in contrast, is to test its candidates against aggressive endpoints in studies with rapid readouts, giving it a chance to nimbly pivot if any drugs drop out. That approach, coupled with the company's science, was enough to sway OrbiMed, general partner Carl Gordon said.

The latest raise brings Sage's three-year haul to about $106 million, including a $10 million NIH grant for work on Fragile X syndrome.

- read the announcement