Irish venture capital group Fountain Healthcare has invested in a Belgian start-up that is investigating a dementia therapy.
The company, Syndesi Therapeutics, has raised €17 million to pursue development of the new drug, which is being spun out of Belgian drug group UCB.
UCB Pharma has a strong track record in epilepsy for which it has developed a number of blockbuster drugs focused on modulating something called the synaptic vesicle glycoprotein 2A (SV2A) receptor in nerve cells.
The early-stage drug spun out by UCB also works through the SV2A receptor but in a different way. They have shown no promise in epilepsy but have been shown to improve cognition in preclinical animal-based studies.
As cognition is not one of UCB’s strategic areas of interest, “the decision was made to have the programme further developed externally to leverage its full potential”, the company said.
Proof of concept
The €17 million funding is expected to bring the new business through to an initial proof-of-concept study in patients.
The investment has been led by the investment division of pharma group Novo Nordisk and Fountain Healthcare. Other investors include drug giant Johnson & Johnson's venture capital arm and a number of Belgian venture capital groups. UCB will retain a shareholding in the business.
Fountain Healthcare managing partner Aidan King, who joins the board of Syndesi, said that what attracted the Irish group to the company was that the drug is directly targeting dementia, the core symptom of Alzheimer's disease, and therefore can be evaluated in clinical trials faster (and cheaper) than disease modifying drugs.
That’s a reference to a series of drugs being tested by a number of drug firms, to date with no success.
The last drug approved for Alzheimer’s disease in the United States was back in 2003, when Forest Labs, now part of Allergan, created Namenda.
The team at Fountain Healthcare was formerly involved with Irish biotech group Elan which was also involved in trying to tackle Alzheimer’s.
“This SV2A is know to be involved in synaptic transmission,” said Mr King. “Synaptic dysfunction is a cornerstone of Alzheimer’s disease, hence any drug that improves transmission may have beneficial effects on the condition.”