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M3 Biotechnology founder and CEO Leen Kawas. (M3 Biotechnology Photo)

Alzheimer’s remains one of the biggest puzzles in the medical world. It’s a devastating disease that impacts millions of people across the globe, but there are no treatments that can halt or reverse it.

M3 Biotechnology, a Seattle-based biotech startup, is hoping it has the answer to that puzzle. The company just launched its first clinical trial to test a drug it says could halt or reverse the nerve damage that causes Alzheimer’s. It has also raised $15.2 million in new funding to support that work, GeekWire has learned.

The new round brings total investment in the company to more than $26 million.

The funding includes investments from Seattle biotech veteran Bruce Montgomery and his brother Michael Montgomery, both of whom serve on the company’s board of directors. Other investors include Dolby Family Ventures, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Fund, WFund and Kayne Capital.

The clinical trial launch is an important moment for M3 — it marks the first step down the path to FDA approval, the biggest hurdle for any biotech startup. It’s the first time the company’s drug, called NDX-1017, will be tested in humans.

“The launch of our first-in-human clinical trials is a significant step toward realizing M3’s mission to develop affordable therapies that modify neuro-degenerative diseases,” said Leen Kawas, founder and CEO of M3, in an announcement about the clinical trial. “Current drugs on the market for Alzheimer’s patients offer only symptomatic relief, whereas we anticipate NDX-1017 will slow, halt and potentially restore lost function.”

If successful, the drug would be a huge step forward in Alzheimer’s treatment. It works by stopping the deterioration of neurons, the core cause of the disease.

“The pre-clinical studies suggests we are on the right path, and we are excited to advance a much-needed brain regenerative therapy to alleviate the suffering of millions afflicted by the disease, and their families, around the world,” Kawas said.

The technology could also be used to develop treatments for other neurological disorders, including diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS and various forms of dementia.

M3 Biotechnologies was founded by Kawas six years ago. Its technology is based on research Kawas conducted when she was earning her PhD in molecular pharmacology at Washington State University.

The startup made the Seattle 10 last year, a list of the ten hottest startups in the Pacific Northwest, as chosen by GeekWire.

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