MEDCITY News: Biotech startup puts new spin on regenerative medicine for nervous system repair


KALAMAZOO -- An early-stage Midwest biotech startup with a unique approach to treating damaged nervous system tissue is looking for its first round of capital.

Axonia Medical has raised $1 million of the $3 million it hopes to secure in a Series A financing that would carry the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based biotech through large-animal trials of its regenerative nervous system repair technology.

The nervous system has a limited ability to repair itself after injury, and there is a lack of effective treatment options to restore function, especially in brain and spinal cord injuries, according to Axonia Co-founder, President and CEO Harry Ledebur.

“There’s not a well-established market or standard of care for peripheral nervous system injuries, and a number of injuries with large lesion or that are close to spinal cord that can’t be treated right now,” he said.

The startup company’s technology aims to surgically rebuild and restore damaged nervous systems using living functional tissue-engineered nerve grafts, which can bridge lost nervous tissue and jump-start regenerative mechanisms in the body to restore functionality. These grafts are essentially implantable nervous tissue — not cells — made of two neuron populations connected by long stretches of functioning axons that are grown and stretched out in a lab.

Approximately 400,000 individuals in the U.S. suffer from injuries to the peripheral nervous system, with less a quarter of them achieving good restorative function.

Although it’s still in the pre-clinical phase, Axonia’s technology has applications to repair damage that is currently untreatable in a market Ledebeur believes to be worth more than$1 billion. He said trials have produced positive pre-clinical results in small rodents with peripheral and spinal injuries, and the Series A funding will help transition the company to 18 to 24 months of large animals trials.

If those trials produce positive results, Ledebur thinks he’ll be able to secure more funding from coastal venture groups and partners. The company anticipates a $25 million Series B round.

Founded in 2011, Axonia leverages technology developed by Dr. Douglas Smith at the University of Pennsylvania. CEO Ledebur is a two-time entrepreneur and an executive-in-residence at the Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund.

For now, the company will focus on the peripheral nervous system application but will continue researching the use of its technology in follow-on products for spinal cord and brain injuries.

By Deanna Pogorelc