From One Japanese Backer to Another: Galenea Advances Brain Drugs

7/19/12Follow @arleneweintraub

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not to block the protein—the approach taken by many drug developers—but rather to look for compounds that may restore the synapse to its normal functioning level, even in the presence of the toxic protein, Benjamin says. “It’s really what our technology lends itself to,” Benjamin says. “Instead of trying to remove the protein, we look for a small molecule we can add to the situation to make the synapse behave normally.”

Mark Benjamin, CEO of Galenea

In addition to working with Eisai, Galenea is developing its own compounds for neurodegenerative diseases. It has a schizophrenia program that’s partly supported by the Stanley Medical Research Institute, a Chevy Chase, MD-based organization that provides funding for research into that disease, as well as bipolar disorder. In April, the institute made a $6 million equity investment in Galenea’s schizophrenia research. The money will also fund a research collaboration between Galenea and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. That collaboration, plus a $4.5 million NIH grant Galenea received in 2010, will fund the identification and animal testing of a lead molecule, Benjamin says.

Galenea is also using its technology platform to identify possible treatments for Huntington’s disease. In September it formed a research pact with CHDI Foundation, a Huntington’s-focused organization with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Princeton, NJ. The financial details of the arrangement were not disclosed.

Benjamin says the support from disease foundations and government grants has been vital. Galenea has won more than $9 million in grants so far, he says.

As for funding the company going forward, Benjamin says Galenea will continue to look for Big Pharma partnerships—a process that he hopes will get easier as the dust continues to settle in the industry. “Most of the major pharma companies that had pre-clinical neuroscience research programs have gone through dramatic changes,” he says. “They’ve either completely shut down their programs or cut their budgets in half.”

But the interest in finding new remedies for brain diseases remains high, he says, and as those companies refine their strategies, he predicts they’ll be looking for new technologies like Galenea’s to help identify the most promising molecules to pursue. The company has already detected interest from in-house venture capital arms of some major pharma companies, he says. In the meantime, Galenea will continue to lean on foundations that support research into brain diseases. “The foundations have stepped into the venture capital breach,” he says. “They don’t want to see innovation grind to a halt.”

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