Startup Brings $217 Million to Neurodegenerative Disease Research

Denali Therapeutics, a new biotechnology company in South San Francisco, today announced its start with an initial $217 million of venture capital (see Forbes magazine). The company will focus on translational medicine, developing therapies for neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and others. Denali’s three co-founders all previously worked for Genentech, South San Francisco.

“We want to work on specific pathways that are genetically validated using rigorous translational medicine tools,” said Ryan Watts, who previously directed the department of neuroscience at Genentech and is now president, acting chief executive officer, and chief scientific officer of Denali. “Although investors recognize this is a massive unmet need, recent scientific advances in the field now offer a real opportunity for success,” Watts told Alzforum.

Co-founders Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Alexander Schuth were formerly Genentech’s executive vice president of research and CSO, and head of technology innovation and diagnostics partnering, respectively. Schuth is now chief operating officer of Denali, while Tessier-Lavigne, president of Rockefeller University in New York, chairs the board. Founding investors include the Alaska Permanent Fund, a $54 billion fund owned by the state of Alaska. It is represented in this investment by Crestline Investors. Initial investors also include ARCH Venture Partners and Flagship Ventures. They further include Fidelity Biosciences, which is owned by Fidelity Investments/FMR LLC, as is Alzforum. Sovereign wealth funds, public mutual funds, and private family offices have contributed additional money.

Watts said Denali is in the process of hiring scientists experienced in everything from molecular genomics to drug development, to create the infrastructure necessary to take a drug from target discovery to clinical evaluation. He said the company will collaborate extensively with academic and industry partners. No one neurodegenerative disease takes priority right now, Watts said, but he declined to reveal details of any of their starting projects.

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