BioWorld International Correspondent
PARIS Faust Pharmaceuticals, a start-up developing new compounds for the treatment of central nervous system disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, closed an initial funding round in which it raised EUR3 million (US$2.6 million).
Sofinnova Partners was the lead investor, putting up EUR2 million, while another Paris-based venture capital fund, Auriga Partners, contributed EUR1 million.
Faust Pharmaceuticals, which operates out of Gif-sur-Yvette, was created in October and is an offshoot of the French National Scientific Research Center’s Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and the Natural Chemical Substances Institute. The company is applying its knowledge of the cellular mechanism of neurotransmission and a proprietary screening platform to discover and develop molecules able to modulate neurotransmission in CNS and neurodegenerative disorders.
The company describes its NeuroCube screening platform, which was validated by contract research agreements with various pharmaceutical companies, as the first pre-synaptic discovery platform measuring the impact of drugs on the CNS. Another tool in Faust’s armory is NeuroScreen, which provides a simultaneous measure of five neurotransmitters involved in CNS disorders.
CEO Gregory Chapron told BioWorld International that the technology entailed the automated screening of living matter rats’ brains to profile a drug’s activity in relation to neurotransmitters. “It can produce a complete identity card on a drug in less than a day,” he said, adding that the technology also could be used to predict the potential adverse side effects on the CNS of a drug designed to treat another part of the organism.
Faust’s lead compound is for the treatment of particularly severe CNS diseases, especially pharmaco-resistant epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and neurological damage caused by stroke. Proof of concept of the compound, FP-0011, was established in ex vivo and in vivo animal models. Chapron said it is now undergoing two tests in mouse models of epilepsy and ALS and that “a Phase I clinical trial in one or more of these indications will start in three to six months, at most.” Phase II trials could be under way by the end of 2003, he added.
Faust has a second drug development program under way based on research into muscle cells carried out by one of its founders. This resulted in the discovery of a new family of compounds that has the potential to induce re-expression of certain silenced genes (in particular fetal genes), enabling them to express new proteins to complement or replace a defective or missing one. One of these compounds, FP-0023, an inducer of utrophin expression, is being developed for the treatment of Duchenne’s disease (a form of muscular dystrophy). Proof of concept has been established and clinical trials could begin early in 2003. Faust is investigating other therapeutic applications of FP-0023, including for the treatment of spinal amyotrophy and anemia.
The company’s current funding will last 12 to 18 months, when a second financing is planned, Chapron said. Its “first significant revenues” would come from FP-0011, he explained, pointing out that Faust would probably conclude a co-development agreement with a pharmaceutical company for the last phase of clinical trials and the commercialization of the drug, hoping to negotiate a good deal on the strength of Phase II trial results. Meanwhile, in the second quarter of 2003, Faust plans to select another lead to take into clinical development.