Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – also known as motor neurone disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease – is an incurable neurodegenerative disease that results in the progressive loss of motor neurons that control voluntary muscles.
Early symptoms of ALS include stiff muscles, muscle twitches and gradual increasing weakness and muscle wasting. The affected muscles are responsible for chewing food, speaking and walking. Motor neuron loss continues until the ability to eat, speak, move, and finally the ability to breathe is lost. ALS eventually causes paralysis and premature death, usually from respiratory failure.
But now there is some hope from Neuromagen Pharma Ltd., an Israeli companyincubated at the Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba.
Its Oazis accelerator and venture builder is based on research conducted by BGU Prof. Esther Priel, head of the Laboratory for Nucleic Acids Topology, at the Faculty of Health Sciences, and her team.
Neuromagen (nerve “protector” in Hebrew) has raised several million dollars in a “seed round” to develop a new class of small molecules for the treatment of ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Oazis is an academy-based accelerator and venture builder which leverages BGU’s distinctive advantages in entrepreneurship and technology to grow deep-tech startups.
For some startups, a seed funding round is all that the founders feel is necessary in order to successfully get their company off the ground; these companies may never engage in a Series A round of funding. Most companies raising seed funding are valued at somewhere between $3 million and $6 million. Ideally, founders should give up shares or equity worth as little as 10% of the startup in the seed round, but most cases require up to 20% dilution but it should be remembered that anything over 25% may be a bad deal for the founder.
Priel and her research group focus is on the involvement of topoisomerases and telomerase in neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular disfunction and diabetes. With more than 40 years of research, Esther and her team published almost 100 scientific publications, and she is the inventor of more than 80 patents. Esther is considered a world expert in the field of neuroprotection by telomerase.
The family of novel small molecules Priel developed activates the transcription of a major surviving enzyme called telomerase reverse transcriptase, which results in protection and rehabilitation of neuronal cells. When tested in ALS animal models, Neuromagen’s drug candidates demonstrated delayed onset as well as delayed progression of the disease, and increased survival of the neurons by an impressive 60%.
“We are excited to secure this substantial funding, which will enable us to jumpstart the company and initiate the preclinical work towards developing our promising drug candidates,” said Dr. Gil Ben-Menachem, founder and chief executive officer of Neuromagen. “Currently there are no drugs available to treat ALS, so our drug candidate presents a new treatment paradigm and could be both first and best-in-class.”
Oazis CEO Julia Sagalin Nemets added, “I am happy to see yet another Oazis company emerge from our incubator and secure funding. We are also very proud that the technology, the investors, as well as the company’s headquarters, are based in Beersheba.”