Swiss-based Noema Pharma has raised CHF54m ($60.8m) in an oversubscribed Series A round. The funding was co-led by Sofinnova Partners and Polaris Partners; other investors included Gilde Healthcare and BioMed Partners.

This funding enables Noema to continue the clinical development of four products – NOE-101, NOE-105, NOE-109 and NOE-115 – that the company previously in-licensed from Swiss pharma giant Roche. These four candidates are for rare neurological indications with severe unmet need, including tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), trigeminal neuralgia (TN) and Tourette syndrome.

Noema’s CEO Luigi Costa explains the company expects “to be able to complete Phase II testing in three indications with the two lead compounds, NOE-101 and NOE-105” by 2022 and 2023 respectively. Costa adds that Noema will also carry out “pre-clinical proof of concept work and initiation of Phase II testing in undisclosed indications with NOE-109 and NOE-115” by 2022.

As a result of the financing, Darren Carroll, partner at Polaris, and Arthur Franken, general partner of Gilde, have joined Noema’s board of directors. Sofinnova managing partner and chairman Antoine Papiernik has been a member of the board since his company made a seed investment and helped create Noema in October 2019.

Exploring Sofinnova and Noema’s relationship

Costa notes that Noema was very pleased that Sofinnova returned to invest in the company only a year after the initial seed funding.

In explaining Sofinnova’s general interest in Noema, Papiernik notes “it started with the people”. “We were introduced to Dr George Garibaldi, who is a distinguished leader in child psychiatry and a former head of neurosciences at Roche,” he says. “He convinced us that these drug candidates, which had been shelved as a result of a change in strategic priorities, could be given a second life in new indications to treat orphan neurological diseases.”

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He adds: “We then brought in Luigi Costa, an Entrepreneur in Residence at Sofinnova Partners and a seasoned biotech executive, who was instrumental in the diligence conducted on these compounds and most importantly, in spearheading a strategy, creating a business plan, and bringing in a top-notch syndicate of investors to shift Noema out of stealth mode via this Series A.”

Papiernik notes that Sofinnova has “a history of creating successful companies by licensing assets from Roche. Noema is the fourth such company. For Noema, this oversubscribed CHF54 million Series A is just the beginning of what we hope will become an equally successful story.”

Tackling unmet needs of rare neurological conditions

Noema focuses on developing “ground-breaking therapies to address the most disabling symptoms in orphan conditions of the brain and nervous system” and overcome significant unmet needs in neurology, according to Costa.

Taking the example of TSC, Noema chief medical officer George Garibaldi explains that “60% of individuals are resistant to current treatments and continue to suffer from recurrent frequent seizures”. Garibaldi adds: “For patients with TN, the problem is pain. Again, a proportion of patients are resistant to treatments that aim to combat the severe chronic pain.”

With its products, Noema therefore aims to overcome the issues with existing treatments for these neurological conditions and seek to “return functional capacity that will allow [patients] to lead fuller, more productive lives”, explains Garibaldi. He adds that although the four products in-licensed from Roche “were not originally developed with these indications in mind”, research has suggested that they are “potentially well suited for development” for TSC, TN and Tourette syndrome.

Noema’s lead product is NOE-101, which is a metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) inhibitor, and, Garibaldi explains, can tackle persistent seizures in TSC and severe pain in TN. There is a clear biologic rationale for “pursuing the blockade of mGluR5, the molecular target of NOE-101, in both of these indications”.

NOE-105 is a highly selective Phosphodiesterase 10A (PDE10A) inhibitor, which is indicated for Tourette syndrome. “The ability of NOE-105 to down-modulate overactive D2 receptor-mediated motor behaviours has been confirmed in a number of recent studies, indicating that it is a new, potentially well tolerated treatment strategy for Tourette syndrome, another disease that is currently poorly addressed by existing therapies,” explains Garibaldi.

NOE-109 is also an mGluR5 inhibitor, while NOE-115 is a triple re-uptake inhibitor that enables the combined re-uptake of monoamine neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.