Privately owned Empyrean Neuroscience, Inc. has launched with a $22 million Series A financing and a genetic engineering platform to advance a pipeline of neuroactive compounds targeting disorders of the central nervous system (CNS). The company is founded on a proprietary platform designed to genetically engineer small molecule therapeutics from fungi and plants. Veteran biotech executives Usman “Oz” Azam, M.D., Chief Executive Officer, and Fred Grossman, D.O., FAPA, Chief Medical Officer, lead the company.
“There is an enormous medical need for safe and effective therapeutics that treat neuropsychiatric and neurologic disorders and we believe genetic engineering provides the answer,” said Dr. Azam, Empyrean’s Chief Executive Officer. “By applying our genetic engineering platform to make precise modifications to the genomes of fungi and plants, we can change the amount and kind of neuroactive small molecules they produce, with the goal of developing safe and effective treatments for difficult-to-treat diseases of the CNS.”
The company’s developmental pipeline includes fungal alkaloids, cannabinoids, and other neuroactive compounds, such as N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), for the potential treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), neurologic disorders, substance abuse and dependence, and chronic pain. Investigational New Drug (IND) enabling studies of the company’s first genetically engineered encapsulated mushroom drug product are currently underway, and the company aims to enter the clinic for MDD in 2023.
Dr. Azam was previously President and Chief Executive Officer of Tmunity Therapeutics, a biotech developing genetically engineered cell therapies for applications in cancer. Before Tmunity, he was Global Head of Cell & Gene Therapies at Novartis, where he was responsible for commercial operations, business development licensing, new product commercialization, clinical development, regulatory affairs, and other aspects of the global cell and gene therapies business.
“Fungal alkaloids and cannabinoids have shown promise in treating depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other neuropsychiatric and neurologic disorders,” said Dr. Grossman, Empyrean’s Chief Medical Officer. “We believe our approach of genetically engineering fungi and plants can improve their safety and efficacy and will ultimately help to address the substantial unmet medical need in patients who suffer from these diseases.”
As part of its genetic engineering platform, the company has licensed CRISPR/Cas9 technology from ERS Genomics for genetic engineering applications related to its therapeutic pipeline.