Cygnal Therapeutics Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based startup devoted to developing new cancer and immunotherapy drugs, has raised $65 million from Flagship Pioneering to advance research in a field it is calling "exoneural biology" in an effort to deliver relief via the peripheral nervous system. The company is led by Pearl Huang, a veteran of Roche Holding AG and Glaxosmithkline plc. Calling exoneural biology "a new way to look at something that has always been there," she said Cygnal's platform has uncovered "new drivers of disease that are both profound and actionable."

Exoneural biology, as conceived by the company, takes account of the ways in which nerves function "far beyond canonical contexts and mechanisms," making use of biochemical neural pathways and signals. Furthermore, its team posits, "many non-neuronal cells communicate with and mimic nerves in diseases settings."

The company, founded in 2017, is built on the work of Flagship Pioneering partner Avak Kahvejian and principal Jordi Mata-Fink and others who leveraged tools designed to examine peripheral innervation in tumor tissue, observing new interactions between neurons, tumors and other cells in the tumor microenvironment.

"We immediately saw that the same biological mechanisms that give us sensation and drive our mood are at the center of human health and disease," said Kahvejian, who served as Cygnal's founding CEO until Huang's appointment earlier this year.

Cygnal's Exoneural Medicine Platform has six core components: proprietary imaging, co-culture technology, neural cell control, neural functional genomics, neural pathway bioinformatics and a "custom neuropharmacopeia." So far, the company has initiated drug development programs in cancer and inflammation and has filed more than 40 patents. Possible future areas of development listed on the company's website include proliferative diseases, regeneration, metabolism and neurology.

Launched in 2000, Flagship Pioneering has launched and supported more than 100 scientific ventures, deploying more than $1.7 billion to found and grow its companies alongside more than $10 billion of follow-on investments from other investors. Previously known as Flagship Ventures, its current roster of affiliated companies spans 38 businesses, including the recently launched Omega Therapeutics Inc., a genomic medicine startup. (See BioWorld, Sept. 24, 2019.)

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