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Start-Up to Tackle Neurodegenerative Diseases, Raises $31 Million

Magnolia Neurosciences

(Magnolia Neurosciences Corp.)

13 August 2018. A new company is forming to develop treatments that protect against destruction of brain cells in Alzheimer’s disease and comparable nerve damage from chemotherapy. Magnolia Neurosciences Corp. in New York, a spin-off enterprise from the Neurodegeneration Consortium and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, is raising $31 million in its first venture funding round, backed by several venture investment and pharmaceutical companies.

Magnolia Neurosciences is taking on the combination of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and peripheral nerve damage, which the company says affects some 20 million people in the U.S. The company is commercializing research by the Neurodegeneration Consortium, based in Houston, on programmed cell death, a natural and controlled process to eliminate excess nerve cells, or neurons, during embryonic development that becomes reactivated in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. The group studies aspects of programmed cell death promoting degeneration of neurons in the brain, and discovered drug candidates that in tests with animals show promise in protecting against this damage.

“There is a critical need to develop medicines that slow or stop neuronal loss in these patients, and a growing body of data suggests that inhibition of these specific pathways has the potential to preserve neuron viability across a variety of disease states and pathological conditions,” says Jim Ray, director of the Neurodegeneration Consortium in a Magnolia statement. Neurodegeneration Consortium is a joint undertaking of researchers from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Mount Sinai medical school in New York, and MIT.

Another target of Magnolia Neurosciences is peripheral nerve damage from chemotherapy, which according to M.D. Anderson affects as many as two-thirds of the 700,000 people in the U.S. receiving chemotherapy. Symptoms include pain, burning, loss of sensation, and balance problems. But more than 200,000 people also encounter general cognitive and memory problems, called “chemobrain,” that can last for years.

Magnolia Neurosciences is expected to develop discoveries from M.D. Anderson’s Institute for Applied Cancer Science addressing chemotherapy-induced peripheral nerve damage. In addition to preventing these adverse effects, new treatments for this condition would help cancer patients adhere to their chemotherapy, avoid dose reductions, and improve their chances for survival. M.D. Anderson, part of the University of Texas System, is also based in Houston.

Magnolia Neurosciences is being formed by venture investor Accelerator Life Science Partners in New York, that also led the company’s first venture financing round, raising $31 million. Other venture investors taking part include Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Innovate NY Fund, Partnership Fund for New York City, Watson Fund, L.P., and 180 Degree Capital Corp. Several corporate venture funds are backing Magnolia, mainly from pharmaceutical companies: AbbVie Ventures, Eli Lilly and Company, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Pfizer Ventures, and WuXi AppTec’s Corporate Venture Fund. Thong Q. Le, CEO of Accelerated Life Science Partners, is also the interim CEO of Magnolia.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

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