Eli Lilly is betting on a new approach to axonal degeneration, announcing a definitive agreement to acquire Disarm Therapeutics, a privately-held biotech company committed to solving this mystery.
Disarm is developing disease-modifying therapeutics to prevent axonal degeneration, the root of a broad range of serious diseases of the central, ocular and peripheral nervous systems. Most prominent among these illnesses are multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Axons are nerve fibers that serve as the critical pathway between neurons, carrying signals across the nervous system at distances up to a meter. They also have a mysterious, built-in “self-destruct” button.
The condition is often called “Wallerian degeneration” after the British neurophysiologist, Augustus Waller, who was the first to describe the degeneration of severed nerve fibers. Among other factors, Waller recognized that the stump of a severed nerve fiber lingers, electronically competent, for several days before disappearing suddenly.
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Disarm’s scientific founders, Drs. Jeffrey Milbandt and Aaron DiAntonio of Washington University in St. Louis, are among the modern scientists attempting to take Waller’s work all the way home. In 2017, the doctors reported that the Sterile Alpha and TIR Motif Containing 1 (SARM1) protein-coding gene, possesses enzymatic activity centrally responsible for axonal degeneration.
Milbrandt and DiAntonio then banded together with Atlas Venture, and Atlas Entrepreneurs-in-Residence Drs. Rajesh Devraj and Raul Krauss. Lightstone Ventures and AbbVie Ventures were co-investors.
Neurodegeneration and pain are key focuses at Eli Lilly, and the company has a lot of faith in Disarm’s approach.
“Lilly continues to seek medicines to treat the debilitating pain and loss of function associated with nerve damage. The scientific team at Disarm discovered an important and highly promising approach to combat axonal degeneration. We will move quickly to develop their SARM1 inhibitors into potential medicines for peripheral neuropathy and neurological diseases, such as ALS and multiple sclerosis.” Mark Mintun, M.D., vice president of pain and neurodegeneration research at Eli Lilly, said in a statement.
Disarm, for its part, is proud to pass the baton to Eli Lilly.
“Disarm’s innovative approach to treating axonal degeneration holds tremendous promise for addressing a wide spectrum of neurological diseases, and we have made significant strides toward enabling potentially transformative therapies,” Alvin Shih, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of Disarm, said in a statement. “Lilly is ideally suited to advance this exciting new approach to treating axonal degeneration, and we look forward to seeing patients benefit from the work that Disarm initiated.”