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Biotech Start-Up Gains $90M for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Mature neuron

(National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH)

18 Aug. 2021. A one year-old biotechnology company developing treatments for diseases of microglia cells in the brain, is raising $90 million in new venture funds. The work of Vigil Neuroscience Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts is based on research with immune functions of microglia at Washington University in St. Louis and preclinical work at drug maker Amgen Inc.

Microglia are cells in the brain and spinal cord that act like macrophages in the immune system to provide immune-type protections and responses. Vigil Neuro is developing therapies that target a protein acting like a sensor for microglia in the brain known as triggering receptor on myeloid cells 2, or TREM2. The company says TREM2 expression indicates damage to microglia cells, thus making it a prime target for treatments addressing the disease causing the damage. Vigil Neuro’s lead product, code-named VGL101, is a synthetic antibody designed to stimulate TREM2 signals, and the company plans an early-stage clinical trial later this year testing VGL101 for safety and chemical activity with healthy volunteers.

Vigil Neuro says the first disorder addressed with VGL101 is adult-onset leukoencephalopathy with axonal spheroids and pigmented glia, or ALSP, a rare inherited disease resulting from a mutation in the colony stimulating factor 1 receptor, or CSF1R gene. Leukoencephalopathy alters white matter in the brain, including microglia cells and myelin that protects neurons. ALSP usually appears in middle age and worsens over time, marked by depression, personality changes, loss of cognitive and reasoning skills, and eventually loss of motor skills. The company says ALSP affects some 10,000 people in the U.S., and plans a study with patients this fall to better understand the disease and associated biomarkers.

“ALSP is a devastating disease that has a strong genetic link to microglia dysfunction and signaling deficiency,” says Vigil Neuro CEO Ivana Magovcevic-Liebisch in a company statement. “We plan to work closely with patients and their families to unravel the complexities of the disease and rapidly advance VGL101 through the clinic.”

Started-up in December 2020

The company is also developing a small molecule drug to stimulate TREM2 in the brain as a treatment for more common neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. That program is in late drug-discovery stages.

Vigil Neuro started-up in December 2020, formed by health care investor Atlas Venture, licensing research from the lab of Washington University pathology and immunology professor Marco Colonna that studies immune mechanisms in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Colonna chairs Vigil Neuro’s scientific advisory board. The company also licenses related preclinical work from biopharmaceutical developer Amgen Inc. Atlas Venture led Vigil Neuro’s first funding round, raising $50 million.

In its second venture round, the company is raising $90 million, led by life science venture investor Vida Ventures in Boston. Taking part in the round are current investors Atlas Venture, Northpond Ventures, and Hatteras Venture Partners, and new investors Surveyor Capital, Cormorant Asset Management, Invus, OrbiMed, Rock Springs Capital, Deep Track Capital, Logos Capital, Pivotal bioVenture Partners, and Lightstone Ventures.

“This financing,” notes Magovcevic-Liebisch, “will enable us to accelerate both our lead TREM2 activating monoclonal antibody in patients as well as advance our small molecule program through important milestones.”

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