Libra launches with a $29M series A to treat neurodegenerative diseases | 2020-09-23

In the past 10 years, the advances in understanding the etiology of neurodegenerative diseases have…

Libra launches with a M series A to treat neurodegenerative diseases | 2020-09-23

In the past 10 years, the advances in understanding the etiology of neurodegenerative diseases have been dramatic.

“The development of novel biomarkers and other tools as well are key in aiding diagnostic potential and the ability to track disease progression have been phenomenal,” Isaac Veinbergs, CEO of newly created Libra Therapeutics Inc., told BioWorld. “The time is right for understanding neurodegeneration. It’s a difficult field, but we didn’t use to have the ability to leverage the tools we have today.”

Libra has launched with a $29 million series A funding to focus on fixing the cellular misbalance in neurodegenerative diseases that include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Libra said it plans to use the funding to build its team and advance a pipeline of small-molecule candidates that are designed to increase autophagy and to decrease the production of neurotoxic protein aggregates. The company’s three independent programs are focused on those two central pathways. All programs are in preclinical studies.

The vast majority of neurodegenerative diseases have a commonality at the center of a pathway of neurotoxic proteins that accumulate intra- or extracellularly, Veinbergs said. That commonality spans a wide variety of other diseases, more than 100 of them, he added.

“We’re trying to create a balance, which is what Libra means, to create a balance and cellular homeostasis between the production of toxic proteins,” Veinbergs said. “We’re trying to decrease them in two programs. The other program is to increase autophagy, the ability of a cell to use its internal mechanism to clear out the toxic proteins.”

Libra’s lead program is in autophagy but it has yet to disclose a target. Libra is using preclinical data that show the frequent genetic cause of ALS and FTD is expansion of the C9orf72 gene, which is believed to regulate intracellular trafficking and autophagy in neuronal cells. Increasing autophagy, Veinbergs said, will counter the loss of C9orf72 function, making it “beneficial to maintain proper neuronal function.”

Although Libra is pursuing ALS as a primary indication, the company has a platform and programs that will be widely applicable to neurodegenerative diseases and beyond, Veinbergs said. It’s a tremendous market opportunity as neurodegenerative diseases are one of society’s largest burdens, he added.

The San Diego-based company’s science was generated by Axxam SpA, of Milan, a discovery research organization that is providing Libra novel and proprietary chemical matter, assays and drug discovery expertise. Libra is the fourth company that Axxam has spun out. This is the largest series A funding that Axxam has raised and it is also the only Axxam spinout that is based in the U.S., Veinbergs said.

After a long career in pharma, Veinbergs found himself in the midst of a pandemic and raising his first series A to launch a company. He won’t say it wasn’t a difficult process as the financing closed after about six to eight months. The downside, he said, is that by doing the fundraising meetings virtually, the ability to leverage personal interactions was a hindrance.

Veinbergs started his training and career with a passion project to protect people against neurodegenerative diseases. The death of two of his grandparents from dementia was the beginning. In the past 20 years he said he has seen much on the CNS side from an R&D perspective, so “I know what programs are successful. That’s why I joined Libra. The approach they are taking is extremely viable, the starting points are tremendous.”

Veinbergs spent time as principal scientist at Amgen Inc. before putting in nearly five years at Sanofi SA as director of external science and partnering and as head of external innovation in neuroscience. He was also head of business development and licensing in multiple sclerosis and neurosciences at Sanofi Genzyme before becoming vice president of corporate development at Acadia Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Libra’s series A was co-led by Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, Epidarex Capital and Santé. The round was joined by Yonjin Venture, Dolby Family Ventures and Sixty Degree Capital.

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