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

Nerve cells illustration

(Colin Behrens, Pixabay)

9 July 2021. A new enterprise discovering treatments for neurodegenerative diseases is merging with another start-up and raising $73 million its first venture round. Muna Therapeutics in Copenhagen, Denmark is a one year-old company combining with K5 Therapeutics in Meise, Belgium, also a year old, with the merger directed by Novo Seeds, the early-stage venture capital arm of drug makers Novo Nordisk and Novozymes.

Muna Therapeutics discovers small molecule therapies for neurological diseases Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and frontotemporal dementia or FTD, a disorder marked by a gradual decline in behavior or language similar to dementia, but usually not affecting memory. With its therapies, the company aims to restore neuron functioning in patients with an impaired progranulin pathway, a protein that regulates immune activity in the brain. Low levels of progranulin are associated with FTD, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

Muna says it analyzes genetics and molecular pathways associated with neurodegenerative diseases and discovers new molecules using bioinformatics, structural biology, and computational chemistry. The company is based on research by molecular biologist Simon Glerup at Aarhus University in Denmark, a co-founder of Muna as well as several other companies. K5 Therapeutics is spun-off from VIB, a biological research institute in Leuven, Belgium. K5’s work is based on research from the lab of Bart De Strooper, who studies genetic mechanisms responsible for neurodegenerative diseases.

Emerging neurological disease therapy target

“We are in an era of rapid advancement,” says Muna Therapeutics CEO Rita Balice-Gordon in a company statement, “in understanding how to slow or stop the relentless progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia that devastate cognition and quality of life of patients as well as caregivers.” Balice-Gordon is an entrepreneur in residence at Novo Seeds and an adjunct professor of neuroscience at University of Pennsylvania.

The new Muna Therapeutics is raising €60 million ($US 73 million) in its first venture funding round. The round is led by Novo Holdings, the parent organization of Novo Seeds, Sofinnova Partners, Droia Ventures and LSP Dementia Fund. Joining the round are Polaris Partners, Polaris Innovation Fund, Sanofi Ventures, V-Bio Ventures, and VIB. The funds are expected to advance Muna’s new small molecule therapies through preclinical stages, to address neuronal dysfunction, resolve neuroinflammation, and restore neuroprotection to degenerative diseases.

The progranulin pathway is quickly emerging as a target for neurodegenerative disease therapies. Last week, as reported in Science & Enterprise, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and biotech company Alector Inc. in San Francisco agreed on a collaboration and licensing deal that could bring Alector as much as $2.2 billion if all terms of the agreement are met. Alector’s lead products, now in clinical trials, are synthetic antibodies that aim to boost progranulin levels among individuals with a mutation that degrades the protein.

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