BioWorld International Correspondent

NeuroNova AB, a Swedish firm developing a new paradigm for treating CNS diseases based around modulating the process of nerve cell formation in the brain, did not have to look far to raise its second round of financing.

Existing investors HealthCap, Investor Growth Capital and Scandinavian Life Science Venture ponied up SEK109.5 million (US$13.5 million), enough cash, said CEO and President Anders Haegerstrand, to take the company to the point where its lead project is ready to enter the clinic. It has raised SEK139.5 million in total funding.

Björn Odlander, of HealthCap, has become chairman of the Stockholm-based company, while his predecessor, Lennart Philipson, has retired from the board.

NeuroNova also disclosed its first partnership with a pharmaceutical firm. It has entered a collaboration with H. Lundbeck A/S, of Copenhagen, Denmark, to investigate the effects of chemical compounds on neural stem cells found in adult mice. It did not disclose additional details.

NeuroNova, which was established in 1998, is commercializing neurogenesis (nerve cell formation) and neural stem cell research performed by scientific founders Jonas Frisén and Ann Marie Janson at the Karolinksa Institute in Stockholm. Their labs have yielded a string of high-profile results, including the identification of ependymal cells as neural stem cells in the human adult brain and a finding that stem cells in adult mouse brains have a much broader differentiation repertoire than was previously thought, being able to generate cells found in multiple organs.

The company has captured this knowledge in a platform it is using in its drug and target discovery efforts. "It consists of various in vivo and in vitro technologies for assessing the process of neurogenesis," Haegerstrand told BioWorld International. About 80 percent of its efforts are focused on drug discovery, he said, while cell therapy accounts for the remainder.

Its aim is to identify compounds that stimulate endogenous neural stem cells to differentiate into functioning neurons. Haegerstrand drew an analogy with the role of erythropoietin in boosting the production of red blood cells from progenitor cells. "We're targeting immature cells of the brain and the end product is neurons," Haegerstrand said. "Previous concepts have been focused on making existing neurons survive."

The role of neurogenesis in brain disease and repair is gaining increasing recognition, Haegerstrand said. There is growing evidence that existing therapeutics, including antidepressants, act by stimulating the process. NeuroNova has identified novel targets involved in neurogenesis, and it has several protein and peptide leads in preclinical development, with potential application in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The company has not determined when it will commence human trials. "It depends on which molecule is finally selected because some are easier to work with more rapidly than others," Haegerstrand said.

The major pharmaceutical firms have yet to invest in this area, but NeuroNova will, he said, be well placed to win deals once they do. "We know that process better than most - hopefully all - biotechnology companies."