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26 March 2018

Big deal: NMD flexes series A muscles

Aarhus University spinout NMD Pharma, which focuses on therapies for neuromuscular conditions, has attracted the support of several corporates for its $47m series A round.

Author: Thierry Heles, editor

NMD Pharma, a Denmark-based biotechnology spinout from Aarhus University, raised €38m ($47m) in a series A round on Friday co-led by Roche Venture Fund, the corporate venturing arm of healthcare company Roche.

Inkef Capital, a Netherlands-based VC firm, co-led the round, which also featured Novo Seeds and Lundbeckfonden Emerge, respective early-stage investment units for pharmaceutical firms Novo and Lundbeck.

Founded in 2015, NMD Pharma is developing treatments for neuromuscular disorders that can cause debilitating fatigue and weakness, and in the worst case can lead to life-threatening respiratory issues.

Neuromuscular diseases encompass a wide range of conditions where communication between the central nervous system and skeletal muscle is impaired – well-known examples include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which claimed the life of physicist Stephen Hawking earlier this month.

Another example is Parkinson’s disease, which charitable organisation Parkinson’s Foundation estimated affects 10 million people worldwide, with a million in the US alone.

NMD Pharma is exploiting research conducted by Thomas Holm Pedersen, assistant professor in the muscle laboratory at Aarhus University, and Ole Bækgaard, professor in the same lab.

Pedersen, now chief executive, co-founded the spinout with Claus Olesen, senior scientist and research business manager at Aarhus, who is now chief business officer.

What makes NMD Pharma a big deal is the fact that the spinout is chasing cures for an entire category of diseases, rather than focusing only on one specific condition such as Parkinson’s disease – a path pursued by University of Edinburgh spinout Parkure, for example.

Other spinouts are also thinking big. Denali, which was launched with $217m in funding from investors including Arch Venture Partners in 2015, is targeting Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, among other conditions.

ElMinda, a spinout from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has created a non-invasive device to measure brain function, using the data to personalise treatment for people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

To achieve its goal, NMD Pharma is developing small-molecule inhibitors of the muscle-specific chloride ion channel, called CIC-1. Ion channels are proteins that allow electrically charged molecules – ions – to pass through the cell membrane.

Inhibiting CIC-1 has shown promising results in several orphan neuromuscular diseases, including ALS and myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease, during research. The approach could also serve as an effective treatment for muscle weakness in critical care indications.

The series A funding will enable NMD to advance two programs through proof-of-concept studies.

Having the long-term support of healthcare companies, and now the additional support of Roche, will give NMD Pharma a distinct edge. Lundbeckfonden Emerge and Novo Seeds had already contributed to a $3m seed round in 2016 alongside Capnova, after Novo Seeds supplied a pre-seed grant to help launch the spinout.

Christian Elling, managing partner of Lundbeckfonden Emerge, who sits on NMD’s board, said: “NMD Pharma is based on cutting-edge electrophysiology science combined with deep knowledge in motor neuron diseases.

“Based on the seed financing provided, the company has successfully matured its drug development programs and the current series A investment reflects this fact. We welcome the new investors in the company and look forward to continue collaborating with the team and helping them grow the company to address important unmet needs of patients with motor neuron disease.”

Pedersen added: “We are extremely pleased with the commitment of the strong investor syndicate for the series A and now look forward to accelerating the development of the two programs.

“The investment is based on a solid data package obtained during the seed investment periods. This was obtained through the very hard work by the whole NMD team. Our company and this new investment is a prime example of how basic research can transform into a well-functioning biotech company provided that the right support can be raised.”

The spinout’s board includes Anja Harmeier, investment manager at Roche Venture Fund, Morten Døssing, investment director at Novo Seeds, and Lucas de Breed, director at Inkef Capital, as well as life sciences veteran Patrick Vink, who is chairman.

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