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Denali Adds $130M To Fuel Neurosci Deals, First Clinical Trial

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Neuroscience startup Denali Therapeutics said Thursday it has added $130 million in privately-raised cash, in part to push a drug program into clinical trials in Europe.

The South San Francisco, CA-based firm, unveiled last year with former Genentech neuroscientists at the helm and $217 million from investors, has already used some of its funding in stealth to acquire companies and outside R&D. The firm announced today it has bought Incro Pharmaceuticals of San Diego and struck deals with Genentech, Washington University of St. Louis, Blaze Bioscience of Seattle, and F-star, an antibody developer.

Incro has been developing drugs that block a protein called RIP1 (also known as RIPK1), which is implicated when a type of brain cell called glia goes awry. Like neurons, glia are central to all manner of brain activity. Unlike neurons, they communicate with chemical signals instead of electrical signals. (The Incro founders published a paper on RIPK1 inhibitors last year in the journal Cell.)

Denali’s first trial, of an RIP1 inhibitor in healthy volunteers, could point the company toward using the drug in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, the company said in a statement. The trial will start once approved by European regulators.

The new funding round was led U.K.-based mutual fund Baillie Gifford and included all previous investors as well as undisclosed new ones, according to Denali’s statement. Denali was originally funded in a similar fashion—and with similar investors—to Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) of Seattle. Juno, a developer of T cell-based cancer immunotherapies, launched with capital from traditional venture and big institutions that aren’t typically biotech risk-takers, and with emerging science that was ready or nearly ready for clinical testing.

Photo of Mt. Denali courtesy of Nic McPhee via Creative Commons.