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Company is Developing Drugs in the Field of Exoneural Biology to Address Cancer, Inflammatory Disease, and More

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Oct. 8, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Flagship Pioneering, a unique life sciences innovation enterprise, today unveiled Cygnal Therapeutics. Founded in 2017 in Flagship Labs, Flagship's innovation foundry, Cygnal is the first company to develop drugs in the field of exoneural biology, a new understanding of how nerves and neural signaling drive human health and disease. The company has discovered biologically relevant pathways and advanced starting points for drug targets based on exoneural biology, and its initial areas of focus are cancer and inflammatory disease. Cygnal is led by CEO Pearl Huang, Ph.D., and is based in Cambridge, Mass.

"For decades, scientists have known that the human body is interconnected by peripheral nerves that communicate with the central nervous system. Yet the traditional neurobiological view relegated these nerves to an auxiliary status," said Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering and co-founder of Cygnal Therapeutics. "Flagship conducted explorations into the role of nerves in health and disease, finding far-reaching and powerful connections. We created Cygnal to develop drugs based on these insights, and we believe the company will bring relief to patients in need with unprecedented exoneural medicines."

Cygnal's Pioneering Origins
Cygnal's story began several years ago, when Flagship became interested in the role of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) in health and disease. This network of neurons conveys the body's sense of touch and pain, transmits movement and mood, and connects distant parts of the body. Although there have been indicators in research that the PNS is active in human health and disease, this important system has been overlooked in favor of the brain and spine, which are the traditional focus of neurobiology.

Flagship asked: What if, instead of being mere conduits of the central nervous system's commands, peripheral nerves are independent biological actors and even decision makers? What if the most important neural signals in disease come not from the brain, but from the PNS?

Led by Flagship Pioneering Partner Avak Kahvejian, Ph.D., and Principal Jordi Mata-Fink, Ph.D., a team of entrepreneurial scientists leveraged new, advanced tools to examine peripheral innervation in tumor tissue, observing new interactions between neurons, tumors, and other cells in the tumor microenvironment. It turns out that from tumors to gut inflammation and other areas of disease, nerves are functioning in ways far beyond canonical contexts and mechanisms—the tissues they permeate make use of biochemical neural pathways and signals. This is a novel way of thinking about neural signaling as outside—or exo—traditional neurobiology, giving rise to the term exoneural biology to describe the field.

"We immediately saw that the same biological mechanisms that give us sensation and drive our mood are at the center of human health and disease," said Dr. Kahvejian, who is Cygnal's co-founder and served as founding CEO until Dr. Huang's appointment in early 2019. "With the advent of advanced tools and technologies, we recognized that this powerful, underlying biology could become a foundation for a new class of medicines."

Unprecedented Science and a Novel Platform
Cygnal Therapeutics was founded to build the first platform to develop drugs in this new field of exoneural biology. The company is pioneering nerve-cell biology in unprecedented detail. Cygnal's Exoneural Medicines Platform (EMP)™ enables the company to rapidly identify key exoneural pathways implicated in numerous disease settings and to create drugs. The platform comprises six core components: proprietary imaging, co-culture technologies, neural cell control, neural functional genomics, neural pathway bioinformatics, and a custom neuro-pharmacopeia. Using advanced starting points generated by its platform, Cygnal has initiated drug development programs in cancer and inflammation and has filed more than 40 patents.

"Exoneural biology is a new way to look at something that has always been there, but that has been overlooked. Neural signaling is ubiquitous across tissues and deeply rooted in disease and health," said Dr. Huang. "Our platform has found new drivers of disease that are both profound and actionable. I'm proud of the team's efforts to advance our science and platform to where they are today, and we are eager to apply this new principle of biology to other disease areas."

To learn more about Cygnal Therapeutics, please visit the company's new website at

About Cygnal Therapeutics
Founded by Flagship Pioneering in 2017, Cygnal Therapeutics is the first company to build a platform to develop drugs in the new field of exoneural biology, an unprecedented way of thinking about nerves and neural pathways outside of traditional neurobiology. Exoneural biology is broadly implicated in human health and disease. Fueled by its Exoneural Medicines Platform™, Cygnal is creating new medicines across multiple therapeutic areas, starting with cancer and inflammatory diseases. Learn more at

About Flagship Pioneering
Flagship Pioneering conceives, creates, resources, and develops first-in-category life sciences companies to transform human health and sustainability. Since its launch in 2000, the firm has applied a unique hypothesis-driven innovation process to originate and foster more than 100 scientific ventures, resulting in over $30 billion in aggregate value. To date, Flagship is backed by more than $3.3 billion of aggregate capital commitments, of which over $1.7 billion has been deployed toward the founding and growth of its pioneering companies alongside more than $10 billion of follow-on investments from other institutions. The current Flagship ecosystem comprises 37 transformative companies, including: Denali Therapeutics (NASDAQ: DNLI), Evelo Biosciences (NASDAQ: EVLO), Foghorn Therapeutics, Indigo Agriculture, Kaleido Biosciences (NASDAQ: KLDO), Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA), Rubius Therapeutics (NASDAQ: RUBY), Seres Therapeutics (NASDAQ: MCRB), and Syros Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SYRS). To learn more about Flagship Pioneering, please visit our website: