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A startup led by Novartis veteran raises $80M to develop gene therapies for the brain

The U.K. startup has aims to improve on neurodegenerative therapy by using technology developed in a King’s College laboratory run by Christopher Shaw. Shaw is a co-founder of AviadoBio and also serves as chief scientific and clinical adviser to the company.

“We have seen that modifying gene expression can be curative, but achieving widespread distribution is the greatest challenge,” Shaw said in a statement. “We have shown that precision micro dosing to neural networks will deliver broad CNS expression, providing safe and effective treatments.”

In Deschamps, the company has an industry veteran who worked for more than 25 years at Novartis. In her last role, she served as senior vice president and chief business officer at Novartis Gene Therapies. Before that, she held top jobs in the Swiss drugmaker’s neuroscience business unit.

While the gene therapy field is burgeoning, there are still few products commercially available and recent setbacks have renewed concerns around safety. Novartis has one gene therapy, a treatment called Zolgensma for spinal muscular atrophy, approved in the U.S. and Europe.

AviadoBio isn’t the only biotech targeting frontotemporal dementia, a rare and severe form of dementia. Eli Lilly last year announced plans to buy Prevail Therapeutics, which is testing drugs in Parkinson’s disease and dementia, in a deal that may be worth more than $1 billion. Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline in July agreed to pay Alector at least $700 million for rights to two of its experimental drugs, one of which is being studied in frontotemporal dementia.