MD Anderson and Accelerator Life Science Partners launch Magnolia Neurosciences to speed development of neuroprotective therapies

Company to explore new treatments uncovered by MD Anderson's Therapeutics Discovery team

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Accelerator Life Science Partners, a leading life science investment and management firm, today announced the launch of Magnolia Neurosciences Corporation, a company developing a new class of neuroprotective medicines, with $31 million in Series A funding. The company will develop novel therapeutics based on discoveries made by researchers in MD Anderson’s Therapeutics Discovery division, including the Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS) and the Neurodegeneration Consortium (NDC).

“By developing new treatments, Magnolia Neurosciences will address a critical need for patients suffering from neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and chemotherapy-induced neuropathy in cancer patients,” said Jim Ray, Ph.D., director of the NDC. “These conditions are driven by similar biological pathways, and it is our hope that we can improve the lives of patients across disease types based upon new drug candidates discovered by the MD Anderson Therapeutics Discovery team.”

Annually, more than 700,000 Americans with cancer are treated with chemotherapy, and many experience a variety of neural and cognitive impairments as a result of their treatment. More than 200,000 patients each year will suffer from a condition known as “chemobrain,” characterized by general cognitive and memory problems, which can last for years. Additionally, roughly two-thirds of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment develop peripheral neuropathy, in which nerve damage causes pain, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.

The development of medicines to prevent these conditions in patients receiving chemotherapy would not only improve patients’ quality of life, but also would avoid the need for dose reductions or breaks from therapy, resulting in improved survival, explained Philip Jones, Ph.D., vice president of Therapeutics Discovery and head of drug discovery at IACS.

Neurodegenerative diseases include a range of conditions characterized by progressive deterioration of neurons in the human brain. These conditions affect millions of Americans and are largely untreatable.

The NDC is a multi-institutional initiative launched to better understand the biology of neurodegenerative diseases and translate that knowledge into effective therapeutics interventions. Established in 2012 by an inaugural $25 million gift from the Robert A. and Renee E. Belfer Family Foundation, the NDC brings researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai together with drug discovery and development experts from MD Anderson’s Therapeutics Discovery division.

The Therapeutics Discovery division is a unique group of more than 100 clinicians, researchers and drug discovery scientists at MD Anderson working to develop innovative treatment options, including small molecules, biologics and cell-based therapies. The goal of the Therapeutics Discovery team is to bring transformational, life-saving medicines to patients quickly, safely and effectively by working closely with patients and clinicians.   

“Our team is inspired by the needs we see in our patients, and we learned from MD Anderson’s physicians that some cancer treatments can cause significant neurocognitive and neuropathy challenges for survivors,” said Jones. “Therefore, we set out to discover new therapies to combat these issues and, hopefully, a variety of other neurodegenerative conditions.”

Under the leadership of Giulio Draetta, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president and head of Therapeutics Discovery and co-leader of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, Ray and Jones established a multi-disciplinary team of scientists to identify and advance new targeted therapies to treat neural damage, which now form the basis of Magnolia Neurosciences. Ray and Jones also will serve as members of the Magnolia Neurosciences Scientific Advisory Board.

“This project is a stellar example of the patient-focused drug development model that drives Therapeutics Discovery and exemplifies MD Anderson’s commitment to caring for our patients throughout their entire cancer journey, from diagnosis to survivorship,” said Draetta. “We’re excited to see these new therapeutics progress into clinical trials through the launch of Magnolia Neurosciences.”

Investors participating in the $31 Million Series A financing include AbbVie Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Eli Lilly and Company, Innovate NY Fund, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc., the Partnership Fund for New York City, Pfizer Ventures, Watson Fund, L.P., WuXi AppTec’s Corporate Venture Fund and 180 Degree Capital Corp.

The preclinical research to identify and develop the novel drug candidates being advanced by Magnolia Neurosciences was funded by the NDC, through support from the Robert A. and Renee E. Belfer Family Foundation; and IACS, part of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program™, a collaborative effort to accelerate the development of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that save patients’ lives.