Rapport Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on neuroscience, officially launched Tuesday with $100 million from big-name venture capital firms as well as the innovation arm of Johnson & Johnson.
Rapport hopes to overcome a key challenge in drug development: hitting specific targets in specific areas. In neurology, many currently available medicines work by blocking or boosting so-called receptor proteins. But these proteins often are found throughout the brain and central nervous system and even other parts of the body — which can limit a medicine’s effect or cause safety issues.
Conversely, Rapport’s work revolves around “RAPs,” or receptor-associated proteins, which perform various functions and, importantly, are local to certain areas. The company’s goal is to discover new RAPs that can serve as therapeutic targets and, in turn, help create more precise treatments for neurological disorders.
“Most neuroscience treatments are not precise,” said Rapport’s newly appointed CEO, Abraham Ceesay, who previously served as chief executive at a startup specialized in neuroendocrine drugmaking, Tiburio Therapeutics, and, more recently, as president of the Pfizer and Bain Capital spinout Cerevel Therapeutics.
“What we see with receptor-associated proteins is the ability to drug receptors that are very specific to the neuro-anatomical regions of the brain we think, based on data … are the real origination points of some neurological conditions,” Ceesay added.
Rapport’s approach is apparent in its most advanced program, which has entered early human testing as a potential therapy for drug-resistant seizure disorders. While Ceesay did not disclose what RAP the program targets, he noted it’s centralized in the hippocampus part of the brain, where many seizure conditions originate.
Rapport is built around a discovery platform from J&J’s Janssen division that uses genomics, protein science and brain imaging technologies to identify novel RAPs. Rapport also draws on the scientific expertise of several of its founding members, including molecular neuroscientist David Bredt, who worked at J&J for a decade and was in charge of the pharmaceutical giant’s neuroscience discovery work.
J&J’s strategic venture capital arm, JJDC, and Third Rock Ventures collaborated to create Rapport. Arch Venture Partners also participated in the startup’s now-complete Series A financing round.
According to Ceesay, the new funding will help advance Rapport’s lead program to the point where it has “proof-of-concept” data. The money will also go toward programs that are in earlier stages, and toward scaling up the company at its main sites, which are located in two of the world’s biggest biotech hubs: Boston and San Diego.
“We’ve got a lot on our plate — to be able to execute and get our company off the ground. And we think we're really well positioned to do that,” Ceesay said.
Yet, having now launched, Rapport could find itself on the radar of other players. Many large pharmaceutical companies, as well as some sizable biotechs, have shown an interest in brain drugs over the past few years, and pursued acquisitions, licensing deals and partnerships to gain access to them.
To Ceesay, deals aren’t a top priority at the moment. But that doesn’t mean Rapport is opposed to them.
“Partnerships can bring value, when appropriate,” he said. “We do not have any immediate plans. But I always say that it is an important consideration for a growing biotech company.”