Big Pharma backers fuel $17M first round for developer of brain-penetrating protein drugs

ArmaGen Technologies has welcomed a trio of Big Pharma investors to its investor base as the 8-year-old biotech startup advances technology that allows protein drugs to slip through the blood-brain barrier to treat diseases of the central nervous system. Its method could have implications for its three pharma backers--Boehringer Ingelheim, Shire ($SHPG) and Takeda--and aims to result in new or better therapies for rare diseases that impact the brain.

The Santa Monica, CA-based startup raised $17 million for its Series A round from its lead backer Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, Shire, Takeda Ventures and Mitsui & Co. Global Investment, according to its press release on Thursday. With more than 250 million people around the world suffering from CNS diseases, ArmaGen's technology has broad potential applications. Initially, the startup aims to focus on rare or orphan diseases.

As a natural way to protect the CNS, the blood-brain barrier (BBB) blocks most proteins from entering the brain from the blood stream. This poses a challenge for some protein therapies to treat brain diseases. At ArmaGen, scientists engineer drugs with an IgG domain that hitches a ride on endogenous BBB receptors to cross the barrier and deliver therapeutic proteins into the brain. Its pipeline includes candidates for treating orphan diseases such as Mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) Type I, or Hurler's syndrome and MPS Type II, or Hunter's disease or Hunter syndrome.

Shire, one of ArmaGen's investors, has a unit focused on rare genetic diseases based in Lexington, MA, where one of its lead therapies is a treatment for Hunter syndrome called Elaprase. The enzyme treatment doesn't penetrate the blood-brain barrier, however, leaving the brain vulnerable to the effects of the disease, which causes buildups of sugar molecules in tissues and loss of mental functions. ArmaGen's experimental therapy could bring a replacement enzyme for Hunter into the brain and potentially improve treatment for patients with the inherited disease.

"The ArmaGen investor syndicate is a unique group of Big Pharmas each with their own global impact," Dr. William Pardridge, ArmaGen's founder and chief scientist, stated. "This is the first time such a diverse group from the pharmaceutical industry has come together to finance technology in the blood-brain barrier."

- here's the release

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