BlackThorn Raises $76 Million to Advance Drugs for Neurobehavioral Disorders
San Francisco-based BlackThorn Therapeutics announced today that it closed on a $76 million Series B financing round. New investors were Polaris Partners, Premier Partners, Scripps Research and Vertex Ventures HC. Existing investors included Alexandria Venture Investments, Altitude Life Science Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, Biomatics Capital, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC and Mercury Fund.
On April 1, the company announced positive Phase I results and new translational data for BTRX-335140, the company’s drug for neurobehavioral disorders. The Phase I study was looking at pharmacokinetics and safety. The company hopes to progress into a Phase II trial in 2020. The drug is being developed for mood or anxiety disorders. It also has BTRX-323511 in preclinical development for autism.
As part of the financing, Brian Chee, managing partner at Polaris, Lori Hu, managing director at Vertex, and Julie Sunderland, managing director at Biomatics, will join the company’s board of directors.
BlackThorn also added two people to its executive management team. Jane Tiller will come on as chief medical officer. She was most recently head of European markets, Australia and Canada, at Bristol-Myers Squibb. She also acted at BMS as vice president of global medical for neuroscience, virology and immunoscience, as well as full development team lead for the Alzheimer’s program.
Laura Hansen will join as vice president, corporate affairs. Hansen was previously vice president, investor relations at Aimmune Therapeutics.
“BlackThorn was founded to bring new therapies to patients by applying advances in computational sciences to address patient heterogeneity, one of the biggest historical challenges in the field of neuropsychiatric drug development,” stated Bill Martin, BlackThorn’s president and chief operating officer. “Three years later, insights from our data-driven approaches are yielding patient enrichment strategies that could increase the probability of clinical trial success and improve patient outcomes. We are grateful for our investors’ support to continue advancing our platform and therapeutic pipeline as we build out a world-class team at the intersection of technology and clinical neuroscience.”
Psychiatric and neurological drugs are notoriously difficult to develop. BlackThorn was spun out of the Scripps Research Institute in 2013. Part of what makes its approach new is the dependence on artificial intelligence, combining a collection of psychiatric data with computing tools to identify a subgroup of patients with neurobehavioral diseases that are most likely to respond to their drugs.
Targeted drugs are increasingly common in areas like cancer, where specific genetic mutations and biomarkers have been identified, allowing for more detailed understanding of which drugs are most effective for narrow and narrower subpopulations. That has generally not been the case in neurobehavioral diseases, where there are few if any biomarkers and the underlying biology is generally not well understood. Also, the placebo effect tends to be much more strongly involved in neurobehavioral studies, causing problems with interpretation of results.
Patients with mood disorders are usually diagnosed during psychiatric evaluations. And as a result, many clinical trials are measured by observations documented by clinicians by way of questionnaires, and sometimes by patient journals. That’s much less precise and reliable than a blood test or an imaging test.
BlackThorn’s approach is a combination of brain imaging, behavioral evaluation and a cloud-based data tool called PathFinder. It expects to use the data it has accumulated to design its clinical trials.