San Francisco immunotherapy startup Alector just raised $32 million in a Series C round to build out a monoclonal antibody approach to neurodegenerative disease.
Alector is backed by some top-notch venture capital: This round comes from MRL Ventures, OrbiMed, Polaris Partners, Google Ventures, Topspin Partners, Mission Bay Capital and others. President and CEO Amon Rosenthal said the company will hold a follow-on financing round in the next few months thanks to the buzz the company’s generating.
Alector, after all, has a bold approach to treating neurodegenerative disease. The performance of drugs for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other such diseases tends to disappoint in the clinic – largely because the scientific community is still working to understand the genetics and biological mechanisms of neurodegenerative disease. So how is Alector choosing its immuno-modulating antibodies?
“We are a hypothesis-driven company,” Rosenthal explained in a phone interview with MedCity News.
Alector posits that neurodegeneration is caused, in part, by immune deficiency. Its platform works by enhancing or dialing back certain functions of the immune system to control the genetic expression of several neurodegenerative disorders.
The new financing will help Alector to grow its portfolio past the current dozen targets, and have its top drug candidates enter the clinic in the next year or two. It’s filed 10 patpetn applications thus far.
Rosenthal likened Alector’s drug development process as similar to the immunotherapy used in cancer. First generation antibody drugs, like Rituxan, are based on antibodies designated to kill a specific kind of cancer, based on the protein a specific tumor cell expresses. Some next generation drugs are looking for a broader approach to treating cancer – impacting the greater function of the immune system as opposed to honing in on deeply targeted drugs.
The Alector pipeline will ostensibly target the tau proteins as well as the alpha synucleins that are implicated in causing neurodegenerative disease.
“We think our approach is much broader than targeted therapeutics,” Rosenthal said.
Alector will begin the clinical study of its immunotherapy candidates on patients with a genetic predisposition to the disease – focusing on populations that run a high risk of developing the disease.
The startup is building out a broad pipeline of therapeutics, working closely with Adimab – an antibody discovery company led by Alector cofounder Tillman Gerngross. Alector’s R&D has otherwise been completely in-house – it holds no academic or licensing ties to other institutions, though it’s partnered out for some drug candidates with Johnson & Johnson.
“It reflects the strong interest of the pharma industry in what we are doing,” Rosenthal said – to say nothing of the spate of high-profile investors chomping at the bit to fund the company.
Though no one’s announced it publicly, Rosenthal believes that several large pharma are now entering the immuno-modulation space for neurodegenerative disease.
“The immunotherapy approach to neurodegenerative disease is becoming more competitive and hotter – but we started earlier,” Rosenthal said.