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Neuro Disease Start-Up Gains $30M in Early Funds

Nerve cells illustration

(commonfund.nih.gov)

19 September 2017. A start-up enterprise developing treatments for several neurological diseases that the company says are triggered by a common destructive protein, is raising $30 million its first venture financing round. The one year-old company, Disarm Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is founded by two researchers at Washington University in St. Louis that made the key scientific discoveries leading to these proposed treatments.

Disarm Therapeutics is targeting neurological conditions that result from axon degeneration, a condition found in a number of disorders, affecting axons — the long extended fibers in neurons, or nerve cells — that carry electrical signals from the body of the cell. The degeneration of axon fibers is associated with several neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, glaucoma, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and peripheral nerve pain from diabetes or chemotherapy.

The company’s founders, geneticist Jeffrey Milbrandt and developmental biologist Aaron DiAntonio, study axon degeneration at Washington University and identified a common feature to the condition: a protein known as SARM1, short for Sterile Alpha And TIR Motif Containing 1. The researchers discovered the mechanisms behind axon degeneration that result from SARM1, usually a consequence of trauma or injury, but also inflammation or intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma. Milbrandt and DiAntonio documented the role SARM1 plays in breaking down the body’s built-in protections for axons, including the chemical actions used by SARM1 to destroy these protections.

Disarm Therapeutics’ technology, based on this research and licensed from Washington University, is a platform for developing treatments that limit the effects of SARM1 in axonal degeneration. The researchers say SARM1’s enzymatic activity offers a target for new therapies. The company also plans to develop non-invasive diagnostics to determine the extent of axonal degeneration and predict the likely effects of treatments.

Rajesh Devraj, also a co-founder and the company’s current chief scientist, says in a company statement that Disarm plans to translate the research by Milbrandt and DiAntonio into “human proof of concept in a range of neurological diseases, supported by non-invasive biomarkers.”

Milbrandt and DiAntonio are scientific advisors to Disarm Therapeutics, which they founded in 2016 with Atlas Venture, an early-stage life science venture investment company in Cambridge, Mass. Atlas Venture also led Disarm’s new venture financing, along with Lightstone Ventures and AbbVie Ventures, raising $30 million.

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