|Quartet Medicine CEO Kevin Pojasek|
Atlas Venture startup Quartet Medicine added $6.25 million to its Series A fundraise, closing the round at $23.25 million as it moves toward clinical trials with a newfangled way of treating chronic pain.
The biotech, founded last year, added Remeditex Ventures and a pair of unnamed Chinese investors to its syndicate, joining founding backers Atlas, Novartis ($NVS) Venture Funds, Partners Innovation Fund and Pfizer ($PFE) Venture Investments. Quartet's first tranche, totaling $17 million, closed in October.
With the cash, Quartet is focusing in on tetrahydrobiopterin, abbreviated BH4, a chemical produced in the body after injuries. Looking at troves of genetic data, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital identified that patients with a certain genetic defect affecting about 2% of the population have normal baseline BH4 levels but don't experience spikes after enduring an injury, and those same patients had fewer problems with chronic pain in the aftermath. Quartet is seeking to replicate that mutation in the other 98% of people, crafting small-molecule therapies to interrupt the BH4 synthesis process and thus treat pain in a new way.
It's early yet for Quartet's BH4 program. The company is on track to pick a drug candidate by the first quarter of next year, CEO Kevin Pojasek said, and its upsized A round extends the runway through preclinical development and into human trials. Right now, Quartet is focused on nailing down the biomarkers it will need to be sure its eventual drug is having the desired effect on BH4 synthesis. The company hasn't picked a lead indication for its planned clinical program, but Pojasek said it's looking hard at pain related to shingles and diabetic neuropathy.
Quartet is doing its work amid some renewed interest in novel treatments for pain that go beyond standard therapy and abuse-deterrent revisions thereof. Earlier this year, Biogen ($BIIB) agreed to pay up to $675 million for Convergence Pharmaceuticals and its ion channel-modulating pain treatments, and Novartis put up as much as $700 million for Spinifex and its novel approach to analgesics.
The trend is encouraging for Quartet, Pojasek said, as more activity in the field will only improve its visibility in the industry.
"It's one of those spaces where there's really no denying the unmet need, and the existing drugs are woefully inadequate," he said.
Quartet is entirely focused on its lead program, Pojasek said, but the company's scientific founders have recently delved into the role BH4 plays in the immune process, highlighting potential applications outside of chronic pain. And while the company has received some "inbound interest" from potential partners, it's content to dig in and focus on its baseline science for now, he said.
"If the right deal comes along, we'll certainly entertain it, but we're trying to move this as far as we can and play out the human biology piece, because we think that's really where the value's going to be," Pojasek said.
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