Acumen Pharma reveals A round closing to fund Alzheimer's drug research

Driven to test another amyloid-beta mechanism in Alzheimer's, Acumen Pharmaceuticals has wrapped up the first closing of a planned $20 million Series A round from BVF Partners, NeuroVentures Fund, Praxis Technologies, Glynn Ventures and private backers. With the new money, the Livermore, CA-based company aims to fund preclinical research and potentially human testing of a monoclonal antibody from a prior collaboration with the U.S. drug giant Merck ($MRK).

Acumen operations chief William Goure didn't immediately reply to an interview request this morning, and it's unclear how much was raised in the first closing of the A round.

The round comes amid questions about the use of anti-amyloid-beta drugs for Alzheimer's disease, following the failed Phase III trials last year for Eli Lilly's ($LLY) solanezumab and bapineuzumab from Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Pfizer ($PFE). Acumen says that its lead candidate ACU-193 uses a different mechanism than bapineuzumab and other antibodies, as ACU-193 targets soluble oligomers of amyloid beta. The company says that the oligomers stick to nerve cells, triggering memory problems and leading to amyloid plaque formation and tau pathology.

Acumen wants to conduct a Phase I/IIa clinical trial that would provide human evidence of whether ACU-193 can combat symptoms of memory-robbing Alzheimer's disease. Those results could become available by 2016.

The biotech outfit, which was founded in 1996, licensed the Alzheimer's program to Merck in 2003 and then reacquired the rights to ACU-193 and related assets from the Whitehouse Station, NJ-based drug giant in 2011. Merck has clearly gone in a different direction with the 2012 launch of a Phase II study of the oral BACE inhibitor called MK-8931, which is designed to block the beta secretase enzyme involved in the production of amyloid-beta proteins. Yet Acumen and its backers haven't given up on the amyloid-beta oligomer mechanism.

"BVF has participated in funding Acumen Pharmaceuticals and has followed the programs with enthusiasm from the very beginning," said Mark Lampert, founder of BVF, in a press release. "We are delighted to lead the financing of ACU-193. It is a privilege to help bring this exceptionally promising medication to patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease." 

Despite a long string of failures in the Alzheimer's field, Eli Lilly ($LLY), Roche ($RHHBY), Merck and other drugmakers haven't given up research of blockbuster hopefuls to treat the major dementia. There are no approved drugs that reverse the symptoms of the disease, which affects some 5 million Americans.  

- here's the release