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Neuro Disease Start-Up Raises $73M in Early Funds

Neuron

(National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH)

29 July 2020. A company developing new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases officially began operations, staked to $73 million raised in its first venture round. Nura Bio Inc. in South San Francisco, California aims to discover and develop treatments that restore the integrity of neurons, or nerve cells, after damage and protect against further degeneration.

Nura Bio is the creation of the life science venture investor company The Column Group in San Francisco, commercializing research by its scientific founders Marc Freeman at Oregon Health and Science University and Steven McKnight at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Freeman’s lab studies pathologies in neurons and glia cells in the nervous system, including damage to axons, the long fibers in neurons that transmit electrical signals. McKnight’s group investigates the chemistry of neurodegenerative diseases, including discovery of chemicals that stop degeneration of nerve cells.

The company focuses on therapies for damage to axons leading to Wallerian degeneration, a process associated with a number of neurodegenerative diseases. Freeman and colleagues discovered proteins coded by the Sterile Alpha and TIR Motif Containing 1 or SARM1 gene encourage neuron degeneration after axon damage. In preclinical studies, the researchers show limiting signals from SARM1 proteins preserves and protects against functional loss in axons.

Nura Bio is developing small molecule, or low molecular weight, drugs that that block SARM1 signals to treat a range of diseases linked to axon damage and Wallerian degeneration in the central and peripheral nervous systems, including vision disorders. The company is also discovering treatments to restore functioning of glia cells that support neurons in the brain, including a form of immune surveillance that clears away damage that interferes with normal brain functions. Freeman’s lab investigates the role of injuries in disrupting glia cell functions, such as clearance of debris from injuries.

The Column Group formed Nura Bio and led the first round of venture financing for the company, raising $73 million. Samsara BioCapital and Euclidean Capital joined the funding round. The company’s founders recruited veteran biotech executive Alpna Seth as CEO.

“The enormity of unmet need for people affected by neurodegenerative diseases is staggering,” says Seth in a company statement, adding that the investors and staff aim to “build a leading neuroscience company dedicated to transforming the lives of millions of people affected by neurological diseases.”

Nura Bio is not the only company targeting axon degeneration and SARM1 proteins as therapy targets for neurological diseases. In September 2017, Science & Enterprise reported on the start-up of Disarm Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also formed by venture capital investors, in this case Atlas Venture.

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