5:31 AM
Jun 13, 2019
 |  BioCentury  |  Finance

With $76M series B, BlackThorn looks to build out neurobehavioral platform

How BlackThorn rebounded from a January clinical setback to raise $76 million to develop its targeted therapies for neurobehavioral disorders

BlackThorn has amassed a $76 million series B round from investors who are banking on the potential of its PathFinder platform to circumvent the issue of patient heterogeneity in neurobehavioral disorders.

New investors Polaris Partners, Premier Partners, Scripps Research and Vertex Ventures HC participated in the round alongside existing investors Alexandria Venture Investments, Altitude Life Science Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, Biomatics Capital, GV, Johnson & Johnson Innovation -- JJDC Inc. and Mercury Fund.

PathFinder is a next-generation version of San Francisco-based BlackThorn Therapeutic Inc.'s INFORM platform, which analyzes structural and functional MRI imaging, quantitative behavioral data and observational clinical data to identify the neural circuits that drive neurobehavioral symptoms, select targets expressed within those circuits and identify patient populations likely to respond to therapies against those targets.

"We've built out the ability to integrate and aggregate data at scale."

Bill Martin, BlackThorn

The idea is to move away from broad disease definitions like "depression," which cover highly heterogeneous patient populations.

Biomatics' Julie Sunderland and Vertex's Lori Hu said they were intrigued by BlackThorn's differentiated approach to treating neurobehavioral disorders by targeting dysregulated neural circuits underlying specific symptoms (see "Circuit Logic").

PathFinder incorporates publicly available clinical neuroimaging data as well as data from BlackThorn's own prospective observational studies.

"We've built out the ability to integrate and aggregate data at scale," said President and COO Bill Martin.

In January, BlackThorn's most advanced candidate at the time -- BRTX-246040 (formerly LY-2940094) -- failed in a Phase IIa trial to treat major depressive disorder. BRTX246040 was an antagonist of OPRL1.

Martin said the trial did not include selection criteria to enrich for patient subtypes. "At the time, only some of the aspects of our platform were sufficiently developed to inform patient selection strategies."

He said data from that trial were fed into PathFinder, which will inform patient segmentation in future trials.

BlackThorn's lead asset is BTRX-335140, a KOR antagonist that is slated to enter Phase II testing in 2020 for mood disorders.

BTRX-323511, a V1a receptor antagonist, is in preclinical testing to treat autism spectrum disorder.

BlackThorn also announced the appointment of Jane Tiller as CMO and Laura Hansen as VP of corporate affairs. Tiller was most recently head of European markets, Australia and Canada at Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY). Hansen was VP of investor relations at Aimmune Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ:AIMT).

In conjunction with the financing, Sunderland, Hu and Polaris' Brian Chee joined BlackThorn's board.

Targets: KOR - Kappa opioid receptor; OPRL1 (NOPR) - opioid related nociceptin receptor 1; V1a - Vasopressin 1a receptor

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