Company will get $1.5 million and the ability to leverage services at the institute.

Tetra Discovery Partners has been awarded a five-year grant by the NIH to develop a drug to treat mild cognitive impairment. Tetra’s award includes up to $1.5 million in direct funding and access to contracted research services; the company estimates that the total value of the NIH award is at least $10 million over the project’s anticipated five-year period. 

The company’s NIH-funded work will focus on developing a treatment for mild cognitive impairment, which includes memory difficulties as well as other changes in thinking skills and sequencing tasks. The subtle cognitive decline associated with MCI may also precede the development of Alzheimer disease, often by many years. If its NIH-funded project proceeds as the company anticipates, Tetra plans to begin Phase I studies in three to four years.

Tetra’s research focuses on designing drugs that inhibit phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4), a key enzyme in the brain that controls the biochemical process of memory. The compounds designed by Tetra act like a type of molecular glue, closing a “lid” over the PDE4 catalytic site. This approach to preventing the enzyme from functioning has been shown to improve efficacy and tolerability over previous compounds that simply inhibit the enzyme altogether, according to Tetra. The firm is also exploring the ability of its compounds to restore cognitive function in patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury.

The NIH award to Tetra was made through the Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network (BPN), a recently launched NIH initiative involving the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute of Aging. Under the terms of its cooperative agreement, Tetra will retain the intellectual property related to its research and be responsible for the commercialization of the new drug.

Launched in 2011, the BPN program has been fostered by NIH Director Francis S. Collins, with support from the Institutes’ other directors, as part of the agency’s heightened emphasis on translational medicine. It involves making a total of $50 million in funding available to selected academic and industry-based researchers. Tetra is the first award recipient to be notified in the program’s second year and one of only a few nonacademic teams accepted to date.

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