A little more than 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, the numbers are climbing as baby boomers age, and pharma companies have never really come up with a good treatment. But now a group of venture capitalists are betting $15 million that a Cambridge, MA-based startup, Satori Pharmaceuticals, has found a better way to attack the dreaded disease that progressively robs people of their cognitive abilities and memories.
Satori is announcing today that the new financing round was led by existing investors InterWest Partners, New Enterprise Associates and Prospect Venture Partners. The company also said Donald Hayden, the former president of worldwide medicines at Bristol-Myers Squibb, has been named chairman of the board, and that David Schnell of Prospect Venture Partners and Stephen Muniz of PureTech Ventures have also joined the board. The company, founded in 2005, had previously raised $25 million.
The new investment will be used to advance Satori’s efforts to make drugs that reduce the buildup of a peptide known as amyloid beta 42, which researchers believe is a so-called bad actor that accumulates and leads to the nerve damage that characterizes Alzheimer’s. Satori’s bet is on a family of drug candidates, licensed from the Mayo Clinic, that selectively binds with an enzyme called gamma secretase. That strategy has shown promise in animal studies, Satori says, by reducing production of amyloid beta 42, without altering overall levels of other normal forms of amyloid beta. Satori says it plans to file an application with the FDA this year for permission to start the first clinical trial of its lead drug candidate.
“The Hail Mary pass is that with a highly selective and safe compound, we can actually start to think about a preventive therapy,” said Jeff Ives, Satori’s CEO, in a meeting last month at an investor conference. “For now, stopping the progression of the disease is the primary focus of the company.”
Satori’s team has been around the block, and has seen various Alzheimer’s programs show promise in early clinical trials before fizzling out. Before joining the startup, Ives was previously a senior vice president in Pfizer’s R&D operation. Satori’s VPs of chemistry and biology, Brian Bronk and Barbara Tate, both come from Pfizer as well. They are quite familiar with the stories of a couple of other gamma secretase inhibitors from the past (Myriad Genetics’ Flurizan and Eli Lilly’s semagacestat are a couple notables) that failed.
The difference this time, they say, is that Satori’s drug is made to be more selectively targeted to gamma secretase. If all goes well, Satori will be ready to test its concept in human beings for the first time this year.