ONL Therapeutics announced that it has closed a $4.25 million Series A round of fundraising, which, combined with the recently announced $1 million grant from the National Eye Institute, will primarily be used to finalize preclinical development of ONL1204, the company’s lead therapeutic candidate, in preparation for clinical trials as a potential treatment for retinal detachment. New funds will also support the broadening of the company’s research of ONL1204 into other retinal diseases with significant unmet needs.
The financing, which also included conversion of ONL’s previously announced $1 million bridge loan, involved both existing and new investors including Novartis, the University of Michigan’s Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups (MINTS) program, Capital Community Angels, Invest Michigan, Biosciences Research & Commercialization Center and Hestia Investments.
ONL1204 is a novel, first-in-class small molecule Fas inhibitor designed to protect the retina from cell death via both direct and inflammatory signalling in a range of retinal diseases. Retinal cell death is the root cause of vision loss from retinal disease and the leading cause of blindness. The company is initially developing ONL1204 for the treatment of retinal detachment, a condition for which the compound has been granted orphan drug designation by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While initial development efforts are focused on retinal detachment, preclinical in vivo data along with a growing body of literature support potential application in glaucoma, both wet and dry age related macular degeneration (AMD), and non-infectious uveitis, among others.
“This fundraising comes at a critical and exciting time for ONL as we are rapidly completing all preclinical development work for ONL1204, while also expanding our research efforts into other ocular indications,” John Freshley, chief executive officer of ONL Therapeutics, said in a company news release. “The support of our new and existing investors is gratifying and validates the important work that our team has done in demonstrating the role of Fas signaling and the potential of Fas inhibition in a range of ocular diseases.”
As part of the financing, Rafael Castilla, director of investments and structuring at the University of Michigan Investment Office and a supervisor of the MINTS program, will join ONL’s board of directors. Current board member Loic F. Courard will transition to the role of board observer.
“I am excited and honored to join ONL’s board and work alongside the accomplished and talented individuals that comprise the company’s leadership team,” said Mr. Castilla. “This is a pivotal time as the company prepares its lead compound for first-in-human trials and MINTS is thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this important financing milestone alongside a group of dedicated and strong investors, including Novartis, a recognized leader in ophthalmology.”
In his role at the University of Michigan, Mr. Castilla manages MINTS, the University’s direct investment program in early stage venture companies. He has also lectured on investment management law at the University of Michigan Law School. A graduate of Yale Law School and Harvard College, he has spent his career in the securities industry and is a CFA charterholder.