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Cambridge biotech Disarm bought by Lilly for $135 million


Disarm Therapeutics, a Cambridge biotechnology firm working on new potential drugs for neurological diseases such as ALS and multiple sclerosis, will be bought by the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company for $135 million up front.

Under the deal announced Thursday, investors in the four-year-old, privately held biotech could reap up to $1.225 billion in additional payments, depending on how well Lilly does developing and marketing new medicines resulting from the acquisition.

Disarm has discovered potential drugs to treat axonal degeneration, a common and early feature of many neurological disorders. Disarm’s scientific founders, Dr. Jeffrey Milbrandt and Dr. Aaron DiAntonio of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, discovered a protein that causes axonal degeneration and molecules they believe can address it known as SARM1 inhibitors.


“The scientific team at Disarm discovered an important and highly promising approach to combat axonal degeneration,” said Dr. Mark Mintun, vice president of pain and neurodegeneration research at Indianapolis-based Lilly. “We will move quickly to develop their SARM1 inhibitors into potential medicines for peripheral neuropathy and neurological diseases.”

Dr. Alvin Shih, chief executive of Disarm, said Lilly is “ideally suited to advance this exciting new approach to treating axonal degeneration.”

In addition to Milbrandt and DiAntonio, Disarm’s founders include Atlas Venture and two entrepreneurs-in-residence at that Cambridge venture capital firm. Other early investors in the startup included Lightstone Ventures and AbbVie Ventures.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jonathan.saltzman@globe.com.