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Researchers Raise $217 Million to Fight Alzheimer's

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerJune 22, 2015

A new startup company has raised $217 million in venture capital to research neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn more about what increased funding for biotech companies means for Alzheimer’s research and the unique approach this new startup has to fight Alzheimer’s and find a cure for the disease.

A Sign of Financial Turnaround For Alzheimer’s Research Efforts

A new company called Denali Therapeutics is focusing on treating and curing neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s. Denali was founded by three former researchers at Genentech who raised $217 million in venture capital to start the new company.

The news of Denali’s financial backing is encouraging to those who watch investments in the neurological field. There appears to be a trend of large amounts of money going toward biotechnology startups and financial backing for research efforts.

A recent article in Forbes notes that, “NeuroPerspective, a newsletter that tracks neurological treatments, says in the past five years the number of drugs being developed by large drugmakers for brain and nervous system disorders fell 50% to 129 — but that last year, investors poured $3.3 billion into the field, more than in any of the last ten years.”

The $217 million raised for Denali Therapeutics is the largest funding for a new company ever for a biotech company, which may be directly related to the influence of the three co-founders. They include Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President of Rockefeller University and a renowned neurologist, Ryan Watts, former director of neuroscience for Genentech and Alex Schuth, head of technology innovation and diagnostics business development at Genentech.

A New Focus of Research for Denali

There are several existing companies with a similar goal to treat and cure Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disease.

Companies like Biogen, Eli Lilly, Merck and other big drug companies are hard at work on slowing Alzheimer’s by blocking beta amyloid proteins. Co-founder Ryan Watts says that Denali will have a different focus.

Named after the tallest mountain in North America, the founders wanted a company name that inspired researchers to meet a challenge. Watts says, “We wanted a name that was recognizable that represents a huge unmet need.”

With that in mind, Denali will focus on the development of drugs stemming from human genetics as well as researching the effects of inflammation on the pathology of neurodegenerative disease.

Investors include a number of other biotech companies such as ARCH Venture Partners, Fidelity Biosciences as well as sovereign wealth funds, public mutual funds, and private family offices.

Robert Nelson, investor and co-founder of ARCH Ventures is encouraged by the collaboration between researchers before the company even launches. He says the next step is to work with the Food and Drug Administration to develop the drugs more quickly noting:

“You can’t wait 10 or 20 years for the perfect study in Alzheimer’s when it’s going to cost us a trillion dollars in today’s dollars by 2050. The societal cost of these diseases is mind-blowing.”

What do you think about Denali’s focus on genetics and inflammation versus reducing beta-amyloid? Does the amount of money available to new biotech startups that are working to fight Alzheimer’s encourage you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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