Vanqua Bio, a Chicago-based biopharmaceutical company dedicated to discovering and developing next-generation medicines for neurodegenerative diseases, today announced that it closed an $85 million Series B financing round, led by Omega Funds. The syndicate includes Series A investor OrbiMed and new investors Omega Funds, Surveyor Capital (a Citadel company), Avoro Ventures, Casdin Capital, Pontifax, Eli Lilly and Company, Logos Capital, and Osage University Partners. Proceeds from the financing will be used to accelerate the development of the company’s innovative therapeutic programs. The need for effective neurodegenerative therapies is urgent; every day, the lives of thousands of people are changed forever following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (PD), Gaucher disease (GD), Alzheimer’s disease (AD), or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“Vanqua Bio is helping usher in a new era of hope for people living with neurodegenerative disorders. Our mission – to develop effective therapies that slow or stop the progression of PD, AD, ALS, and Gaucher disease – is a very personal one, and we are excited to have the support of world-class investors,” said Jim Sullivan, PhD, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Vanqua Bio. “We are a patient-founded company with a technology platform based on seminal research conducted by Dimitri Krainc, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, that is allowing us to identify a new generation of therapeutics with transformative potential.” (Click to Tweet.)
Vanqua Bio’s drug development approach overcomes longstanding challenges in the neuroscience field by capitalizing on the power of human genetics to identify genes that cause or increase the risk of neurodegenerative disease. The company leverages novel, proprietary research tools and in vitro modeling of disease based on patient-derived neuronal cells to translate these genetic insights into transformative therapies.
“We are delighted to have successfully led this financing for Vanqua Bio, and to partner with Jim and his team and the company’s strong syndicate of dedicated, long-term investors,” said Bernard Davitian, Partner at Omega Funds. “Omega believes Vanqua Bio’s accomplished management team is well positioned to deliver on the immense potential of the company’s precision medicine approach to neurodegeneration.”
Targeting GCase Activation
The company’s lead program is focused on developing small-molecule activators of glucocerebrosidase (GCase), an enzyme that regulates lipid homeostasis in cells. Reductions in the activity of GCase disrupt the function of the lysosome, the recycling center of the cell, enabling toxic forms of proteins, including alpha synuclein, to accumulate and harm neurons. Alpha synuclein aggregation is a hallmark of multiple neurodegenerative diseases including PD. Mutations in the gene that encodes GCase (GBA1) can cause GD and are strongly associated with a form of Parkinson’s disease called GBA-PD and a subset of Lewy body dementia (GBA-LBD) cases. Vanqua Bio’s Series B financing will advance the company’s best-in-class GCase activators into human testing within the next two years, initially focusing on GD and GBA-PD.
“Of the eight million Parkinson’s patients around the world, up to 800,000 have GBA-PD. These individuals urgently need targeted therapies that can improve their outcomes,” said Jonathan Silverstein, J.D., a member of Vanqua Bio’s Board of Directors, Executive Partner at OrbiMed, and founder of the Silverstein Foundation for Parkinson’s with GBA. “Vanqua Bio’s unique approach to discovering novel GCase activators holds great promise in enabling new targeted therapies for GBA-PD patients. I have confidence in the company’s potential to impact patients’ lives, dramatically improve the discovery and development process for additional neurodegenerative disease therapies, and create value for investors.”
In addition to its GCase activator programs, Vanqua Bio will also advance programs targeting the innate immune system, which, when overactivated, can accelerate the progression of several neurological diseases. The company is advancing small molecule and antisense oligonucleotide programs with an initial focus on ALS and AD.
Proven Leadership Team
Vanqua Bio’s leadership team brings a track record of discovering and developing cutting-edge, commercially successful therapeutics. Previously Vice President of Research at AbbVie, Dr. Sullivan helped discover multiple therapies, including RINVOQ™, VENCLEXTA® and MAVYRET®, which have transformed the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, certain blood cancers, and hepatitis C, respectively. Kevin Hunt, PhD, Vanqua Bio’s Chief Scientific Officer, previously served as Executive Director of Drug Discovery for Edgewise Therapeutics, overseeing both internal and external preclinical drug discovery and development. Dr. Hunt also discovered multiple clinical candidates for severe diseases and held prior roles at Array Biopharma, Calico Life Sciences, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Co-Founder Dr. Dimitri Krainc, a leading expert on uncovering molecular pathways that contribute to neurodegenerative diseases, chairs Vanqua Bio’s Scientific Advisory Board.
Mr. Davitian and Sara Nayeem, MD (Avoro Ventures), are joining Vanqua Bio’s Board of Directors, which includes Dr. Sullivan, Mr. Silverstein (OrbiMed), Mona Ashiya, PhD (OrbiMed), and Stephen Squinto, PhD (OrbiMed).
“Given the strong genetic validation for GCase as a target for GBA Parkinson’s and Gaucher patients, the high unmet need in these populations, and the expertise of the Vanqua Bio team in developing small molecule drugs, we are very enthusiastic about Vanqua’s strategy,” said Dr. Nayeem of Avoro Ventures. “The company also benefits from an impressive and deeply knowledgeable board of directors, which Avoro Ventures is honored to join.”