Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest health concerns in the country; it’s the sixth leading cause of death, and its devastating symptoms have an quantifiable emotional and physical toll. And one of the most frustrating things about it is that research on the condition doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere.
But a new startup in San Francisco seems to have taken a different track. The company, called Annexon Biosciences, thinks that they can fight Alzheimer’s by stopping the immune system from removing vital neural synapses. It raised $44 million in a Series B round of funding, with NEA, a venture capital firm, taking the lead and a board seat.
Annexon was founded in 2011 by Ben Barnes, a Stanford neurologist. Their approach is to manufacture antibodies that inhibit the C1q protein, which biologists know is one of the catalyzing proteins in the complement pathway, an essential part of the innate immune system.
Humans are born with more synapses than we need, and C1q helps identify ones needed for removal. As we age, unfortunately, the protein starts removing synapses we need for normal cognitive function. This is usually the first stage in the onset of many neurodegenerative diseases, but a targeted antibody, inhibiting C1q, could help stop this process.
“We think this can be useful for a host of neurodegenerative diseases,” said Doug Love, the president of Annexon. That list includes Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and glaucoma.
Annexon is still in its nascent phase. Researchers plan on spending its new funding to enter its first round of clinical trials in the first quarter of 2017 and go through to Phase II trials.