Sofinnova leads a $30.6M round for Asceneuron's Alzheimer's R&D

Asceneuron CEO Dirk Beher

Three years ago, after Merck Serono pulled the plug on its operations in Switzerland, a team of 8 neurodegeneration specialists used the shutdown as an opportunity to start their own biotech spinout, dubbed Asceneuron. And now they've gathered a substantial $30.6 million round to fund their drive into the clinic with a new drug candidate for Alzheimer's disease.

Marquee investor Sofinnova Partners spearheaded the round for the Lausanne-based company, joined by SR One (the venture arm of GlaxoSmithKline), Kurma Partners and Johnson & Johnson Innovation--JJDC. The company's founding investor MS Ventures also participated.

This round gives Asceneuron a chance to take the next step in the clinic after testing a molecule in preclinical models of the disease. The money gives Asceneuron enough cash to complete IND-enabling studies on the way to a Phase I study that can set the company up for a proof-of-concept test.

Asceneuron hopes to blaze a unique path for itself in a very risky field. The biotech is putting its O-GlcNAase inhibitor ASN-561 to the test as a new modulator for tau pathology. By hitting the enzyme the team believes they can interfere with a process that ultimately creates toxic protein tangles that damage the brain, slowing the progress of the disease and the loss of cognition that routinely occurs as Alzheimer's advances.

Tau and amyloid beta are the two key culprits in Alzheimer's, though the CEO believes that it will likely take a combination of therapies for both to really fight back against the memory-stealing disease.

This was a good-sized round for a Swiss company, says CEO Dirk Beher, but don't look for the core team of 8 to suddenly start a hiring spree. The guiding principle at Asceneuron is to stay cautious, and remain lean and mean as it pursues clinical validation for its approach to Alzheimer's.

"I think you have to be cautious not to build up a company too quickly," says the CEO. And that calls for a careful recruitment plan as it adds to the team.

Henrijette Richter of Sofinnova Partners, Deborah Harland of SR One, Vanessa Malier of Kurma Partners and Hakan Goker of MS Ventures have joined the company's board along with a representative of JJDC.