Neuron23 launches with $113M financing and eyes dead set on Denali and Biogen

A day after announcing two new funds worth $500 million, Westlake Village BioPartners are announcing their latest company. And it’s a well-heeled neuro startup, making a play against some of the field’s biggest targets.

South San Francisco-based Neuron23 announced Wednesday a $113 million combined Series A and Series B and short-term plans to both take on Denali and Biogen in Parkinson’s disease and pursue the neural-side of a target that has Bristol Myers Squibb has recently pursued to great success elsewhere in the body.

“I was very interested in neurodegenerative disease and genetically validated targets,” Westlake Managing Director Beth Seidenberg told Endpoints News. “And we went off, kind of around the world, [searching].”

What they found was Origenis, a German CRO and AI-driven small molecule discover that had developed several candidates for neurological targets.

Licensing molecules and tech from the CRO, Neuron23 are tackling TRRK2, the same Parkinson’s gene at the center of the $1 billion-upfront partnership Biogen and Denali Therapeutics signed this year. Denali already has a considerable edge, with trials already launched in both  healthy volunteers and Parkinson’s patients and their blood-brain barrier crossing technology published in top journals.

Neuron23 thinks they can pull ahead in part by trying to drug not only the 3% or so of Parkinson’s patients who have LRRK2 mutations but also others who have a highly active wild-type version, said CEO Nancy Stagliano. They plan to put the drug in healthy volunteers next year.

The company’s other lead target is TYK2, the JAK family protein that Bristol Myers recently showed could beat Amgen blockbuster Otezla in a head to head study on psoriatic arthritis. Although the company has not disclosed which diseases they will go after, they hope to prove that a TYK2 blocker can have as potent effect on neuro-inflammation as the Big Pharma showed it could on systemic inflammation.

Neuron23 joins a raft of recent well-backed neuroscience startups that have launched just this month, as GSK vet Min Li, former Roche exec George Garibaldi and Atlas Venture’s Bruce Booth. Stagliano brings her own experience in the field. Among other biotechs, she previously founded and ran iPerian, the company that Bristol Myers acquired in 2014 for their anti-tau Alzheimer’s antibody.

The first two targets are just that — the first two, Stagliano said, and they plan to announce more targets and diseases in the near future. That potentially includes such neuroscience white whales as Alzheimer’s, she said. The trick will be just making sure not everyone runs out of the same target again.

“You see this kind of awakening,” she told Endpoints. “We need drugs for these diseases, we can’t give up and we can’t all focus on one biology, we need to diversify, we need to invest and we need to, again, use all the tools available to us.”

Westlake  and Kleiner Perkins led the Series A, while Redmile Group led the Series B.