Modulo Bio’s goal: Better understand and treat ALS, like diseases

Startup company plans to map interactions between nervous and immune systems

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by Andrea Lobo |

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Modulo Bio has launched with $8 million in funding and a goal to map the neuroimmune system and develop treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The neuroimmune system involves interactions between the nervous system and the immune system, which normally protects the nervous system and helps it to recover from harm. But this interaction can be complicated in people with neurodegenerative conditions, where immune cells often play a key role in driving disease.

The company aims to map the entire neuroimmune system to understand how neurodegenerative diseases are related, and to discover more effective treatments that modulate this system.

“By embracing the complexity of the neuroimmune system, we can discover drugs that make an impact across neurodegenerative diseases,” Scott Patterson, chief technology officer at Modulo, said in a company press release.

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Work starts with studies of microglia, immune cells of the brain

While the larger goal is to understand how the entire immune system influences nerve function, Modulo initially is focused on microglia, the brain’s resident immune cells.

These cells are key regulators of the nervous system, helping to protect, maintain, and repair or eliminate nerve cells to keep the brain working properly. But microglial sometimes shift gears, with toxic effects on the nervous system.

To find therapeutic targets supporting the neuroprotective role of microglia, researchers at Modulo developed the Modulo Neuroimmune Platform, which tests patient-derived microglia in a variety of models and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to better understand their behavior.

“We ask questions like: What biological targets influence microglia and shift them into different states? How do microglia in specific states influence disease? How can microglia protect the brain? What neurotoxic outcomes occur when microglia behavior is changed?,” the company states on its website.

In addressing these questions, researchers might discover ways to effectively reprogram microglia to slow or stop disease progression, and possibly reverse damage done.

“We use AI to create multi-layered maps of cellular systems, and accurately predict the effects of genetic mutations, drugs, and their combinations on cells like microglia,” Patterson said.

The company reports having identified new microglia targets and potential treatment candidates for neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a related condition.

“We believe reprogramming microglia is one of the best strategies in the fight against neurodegenerative disease,” said Justin Ichida, PhD, a University of Southern California professor and scientific founder of Modulo, which is based in California.

“By identifying targets on the microglia that reprogram them into protective states, we leverage the natural, evolutionary function of the neuroimmune system to protect and repair neurons,” added Ichida, who has expertise in modeling ALS and FTD using patient-derived cells.

Modulo’s team includes cell biologists, neuroscientists, immunologists, and experts in computational and drug development. The $8 million in funding that helped launch the company came from Initialized Capital, Cantos, Bioverge, Spacecadet, Builders VC, Refactor Capital, and Hawktail.

“We invest in founding teams obsessed with disrupting stagnant, large and meaningful industries,” said Alda Leu Dennis, general partner at Initialized Capital. “In Modulo, we found a team relentlessly focused on modeling and reprogramming the neuroimmune system — and we believe their tenacity and experience will revolutionize the approach to drug development in neuroscience.”