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28 January, 2019 - 09:59 By Tony Quested

Wren takes flight as US funding giants lead $24m round to fight Alzheimer's

US funding giants from Boston and San Francisco have led a thumping $24 million Series A for a Cambridge University biopharma spin-out that hasn’t even named its board yet.

Wren Therapeutics has been set up by academics from St John's College to develop drugs to treat illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s and more than 50 other related diseases.

The fledgling UK business  is set to expand by setting up a satellite office in Boston while remaining anchored within Cambridge University’s new Chemistry of Health Centre.

Wren raised the cash from an international syndicate led by The Baupost Group in Boston with participation from San Francisco-based LifeForce Capital and a number of high net worth individual investors.

The Baupost Group is a long-only hedge fund founded in 1982 by Harvard Professor William Poorvu and partners and is the eighth-largest hedge fund by assets under management ($29.2bn).

Several of Wren’s scientific founders are members of St John’s, including Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, Master of St John's, Professor Tuomas Knowles, a St John's Fellow, and Dr Samuel Cohen, the St John’s Entrepreneur in Residence.

Wren Therapeutics focuses on drug discovery and development for protein misfolding diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and was founded in 2016. 

Protein molecules form the machinery which carry out all of the executive functions in living systems. But proteins sometimes malfunction and become misfolded, leading to a complex chain of molecular events that can cause long-lasting damage to the health of people affected and may ultimately lead to death.

This group of medical disorders are known as protein misfolding diseases. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are widely recognised protein misfolding diseases, but others include type-2 diabetes, motor neurone disease and more than 50 other related illnesses.

Dr Cohen explained: “Protein misfolding diseases are one of the most critical global healthcare challenges of the 21st century but are highly complex and challenging to address. 

“Current strategies – in particular those driven by traditional drug discovery and biological approaches – have proven, at least to date, to be ineffective.

“Wren’s new and unique approach is instead built on concepts from the physical sciences and focuses on the chemical kinetics of the protein misfolding process, creating a predictive and quantitatively driven platform that has the potential to radically advance drug discovery in this class of diseases.”

Wren Therapeutics is a spin-off from the University of Cambridge and Lund University in Sweden. Professor Sir Christopher Dobson said: “Wren is built on many years of highly collaborative, uniquely integrated, interdisciplinary research that has uncovered the key molecular mechanisms associated with protein misfolding diseases.

“I am hugely enthusiastic about our ability to make tangible progress against these diseases and change the course of life for millions of people around the world suffering from these debilitating and increasingly common medical disorders.”

The company plans to announce its board of directors shortly.

• Image courtesy – University of Cambridge

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