Life Sciences Insight

Muna raises $73M to go after Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS

Muna Therapeutics has raised $73 million to develop small-molecule treatments for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The series A will bankroll work on drugs to repair neuronal dysfunction, resolve neuroinflammation and restore neuroprotection and resilience to disease.

Copenhagen-based Muna is going after two microglial targets and a novel target in the progranulin pathway using a drug discovery platform that is enabled by proprietary structural information about the targets and AI-driven computational chemistry. 

Muna CEO Rita Balice-Gordon said hitting the microglial targets will modulate the phenotypes of the cells, specialized macrophages found in the central nervous system, “to be inflammation resolving, and thus neuro-protection enhancing.” Muna is pursuing one of the microglial targets in Alzheimer’s and the other target in Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. 

Balice-Gordon said the third program “is a really exciting way to normalize progranulin signaling in neurons in the context of [frontotemporal dementia].” Studies have linked mutations in progranulin to degeneration of the frontotemporal lobe and shown levels of the secreted glycoprotein rise in the cerebrospinal fluid in the course of Alzheimer’s. 

An investor syndicate co-led by Novo Holdings, Sofinnova Partners, Droia Ventures and LSP Dementia Fund has set Muna up to advance the lead programs. Muna will use the money to take two programs through GLP toxicology and one all the way to IND, while building out its brick-and-mortar labs in Copenhagen and expanding the platform in Leuven, Belgium.

Progranulin pathway expert Simon Glerup and his team from Aarhus University in Denmark founded Muna last year with Novo Holdings. Muna’s structural biology understanding and computational chemistry capabilities are derived from Glerup’s work.

The current iteration of Muna was created by combining Glerup’s startup with another biotech set up last year, namely K5 Therapeutics. Bart De Strooper, the founding director of the UK Dementia Research Institute and professor at VIB and KU Leuven, co-founded K5. De Strooper’s laboratory was supporting K5 by investigating why some people are protected against Alzheimer’s despite having amyloid plaques. Balice-Gordon explained how Muna is building on K5’s work. 

“We have a discovery platform based on an all-in-human spatial transcriptomics and bioinformatics analysis of the cell types that are in the brain that are both contributing to and responding to disease pathophysiology. And we are not only comparing control and disease brains, we are also in the context of our work on Alzheimer’s analyzing brains from individuals that have a deep pathology but none of the cognitive impairment that is a hallmark of the disease,” Balice-Gordon said. 

Using the platform, Muna is working on “the burgeoning biology around resilience,” Balice-Gordon said, by analyzing what protects brain cells from damage conferred by protein misfolding or other pathophysiology. The initial focus of K5, now Muna Belgium, is on Alzheimer’s but will later expand to cover other neurodegenerative diseases. Balice-Gordon is looking to the Belgian group to provide Muna with two targets by the end of 2022.

Balice-Gordon, formerly of Pfizer and Sanofi, is joined in the Muna C-suite by Anders Hinsby and Jakob Busch-Petersen. Hinsby, the former CEO of Orphazyme, has taken up the chief operating officer post, while Busch-Petersen is bringing experience gained at GlaxoSmithKline and Roche to the role of chief development officer on the medchem side.

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