Bridging The Gap: A Platform to Address Cognitive Deficits

February 22, 2024 / New Investments

damona-pharma-2Cognitive deficits are the hallmark of a variety of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders affecting millions of patients worldwide.   These conditions include; major depressive disorder (MDD), schizophrenia, a number of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s Disease, and aging in general.  Treatment options are few and far between and in many cases no treatment options are available to address cognitive deficits across disorders which often leave patients, care givers and family members struggling.  At the forefront of research in the area is Dr Etienne Sibille and his lab at the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH) at the University of Toronto, a world leading academic research institute.  Dr. Sibille and his team has been studying how brain circuitry is affected and if there are ways in which the connections between neurons in vital areas responsible for cognition can be strengthened and as we age.

The brain processes reams of information and has mechanisms to put the brakes on much of the stimuli available so as to ensure that the brain does not to become overwhelmed by inputs that can drown out what is important.  In the early 2010’s Dr. Sibille’s lab discovered that some of the circuitry responsible for putting a break on inputs was affected in human tissues of aging individuals and patients with a number of cognitive issues.  The team went on to show that these same circuits were affected in rodents models of disease and aging.  These insight became the foundation of a number of publications and start of a focused process to determine what could be done to reverse the change in the brains circuitry.

Through collaborations with other world renowned groups DAMONA-Pharma Dr. Sibille’s group embarked on a journey to design a drug that could reverse the pathology that they discovered and hypothesized was leading to cognitive decline in patients.  By the summer of 2017, when we first met Dr. Sibille and his associate Dr. Prevost, — they, CAMH and international collaborators had filed patents on a class of compounds that showed promise in laboratory studies to address this issue.  It was easy for us to be engaged by the vision, need and opportunity.  While the team had initially identified a group of novel compounds and very interesting biology, translating that into a drug was still far off.  From 2017 to 2021, through hard work, tenacity, constant collaboration with other drug developers in the field, leveraging connections through various local and international accelerator programs, VC’s like us, clinicians, etc. the team was able to identify a lead drug that had all the characteristics needed.  They also learned the art of approaching and working with investors, contract organizations that do much of the preclinical work, the various regulatory bodies like FDA, and clinicians experienced running clinical studies.  Through this process the company settled on a program to first address the huge unmet clinical need in patients that respond to treatment of MDD using antid epressants but continue to have lingering cognitive issues.  It is estimated that in the US and Europe alone that there are more than 4.3 million suffering from cognitive impairment that have been successfully treated for MDD.  Therapeutic strategies currently available today include expensive psychotherapy, cognitive remediation and more recently transcranial magnetic stimulation and currently there are no approved therapeutics to treat the cognitive symptoms.

During these early years, like many typical startups, the technology development program was funded through non-dilutive grants and other sources of government support.  And like many startups with promise we provided our early input and guidance on metrics of success and what the company would need including clinical program, company structure, IP and license strategy and team to move the program to the next level to be a leading biotech company poised for success.  In late 2020 and early 2021 the founders formalized a process to raise equity capital to take the lead their lead into the clinic.  Seeing many of the hallmarks of a founding team that could move to the next level, we more formally re-engaged with the founder in the latter half of 2021 knowing the technology well and decided to undertake a more formal diligence effort through which we were to help fully refine the business plan and work closely with the founder to raise capital in 2022.  Despite the challenging markets in 2022 we were able to identify a co-lead, The Noetic Fund, and close the Seed round in September 2022.

Since the close of the Seed financing the company has strengthened the team, enhanced its investor group, hired a world class CEO, John Riley and is now in a position to be in the clinic in 2024.

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