Cortado Ventures is thrilled to have recently invested in Cadenza Bio, an Oklahoma life sciences company developing novel therapeutic drugs to treat demyelinating, inflammatory, and neurodegenerative diseases, with a first indication in multiple sclerosis (MS). Read on to learn more about the company, our investment, and how this technology could improve the quality of life for MS patients around the globe.

The Context: MS and Its Effects on Patients

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects approximately 1 Million people in the United States and 2.5 million people worldwide.[1] MS is a long-term progressive disease that affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). People can develop MS at any age, but most are typically diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. There are approximately 200 new patients diagnosed every week in the U.S.

This potentially disabling disease disrupts blood flow and communication between the brain and the body. The nerve cells connecting the brain and the body are referred to as neurons, and you can think of them as cables that connect the power from the wall to the TV. These neurons are covered in a protective coating called the “myelin sheath.” In healthy humans, the myelin sheath allows electrical impulses to travel between the nerve cells without disruption. The myelin sheath serves three crucial functions in the body: protect the neuron, enable electrical impulses to travel rapidly between nerve cells, and allow the impulse to maintain strength while traveling.

MS results from an immune reaction that gradually damages the myelin sheath (a process called “demyelination”) that covers a person’s brain and spinal cord nerves. As a result, those with MS may experience speech problems, numbness or weakness, blurry vision, and a range of other life-altering neurological symptoms.[2] While many patients live long lives even with MS, each MS attack can be debilitating, and most patients progress to a chronic disease state where significant nerve damage has taken place.

Figure 1: A healthy nerve vs. a demyelinated nerve (aka one with a damaged myelin sheath)

Current FDA-approved therapies for MS are immunomodulatory drugs called disease-modifying therapeutics (DMTs). DMTs are relatively effective in reducing the frequency of attacks on myelin by the immune system and help slow disease progression by reducing the production of damaging immune cells. However, they are relatively ineffective in remyelination, rebuilding the protective coating around the neurons. This leaves the nerve cell much more susceptible to further damage and ultimately leads to the health of the MS patient to deteriorate.[3] Significant advancements have been made to develop therapeutics that will address the concern of demyelinated nerves. Several drugs on the market have been approved by the FDA and are believed to have some remyelinating effects, but none are approved for the treatment of MS.

The Technology

Cadenza Bio’s MS drug pipeline emerged from a collaboration between Dr. John Katzenellenbogen and Dr. Sung Hoon Kim of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Dr. Seema Tiwari-Woodruff of the University of California, Riverside. Cadenza’s strategy to address remyelination is focused on an orally administered small molecule compound[MP1]. Chloroindazole (IndCl), a highly selective and non-steroidal compound targeting Estrogen Receptor β (ERβ), has dramatically reduced symptoms, motor recovery, and remyelination in the proof-of-concept MS animal models. Previous studies have demonstrated that estrogen receptors have immunomodulatory and neuroprotective effects in the brain, and pregnant MS patients experience a reduction in MS symptoms during the 3rd trimester — correlating with the pregnancy hormone estriol.[4].

The differentiating factor for Cadenza’s lead compound (CAD-1, a derivative of IndCl) is its dual ability to address both the immune system and remyelination in patients with MS. Additionally, early data suggests Cadenza’s compounds may have potential for treatment of Endometriosis. Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disease defined by the attachment and implantation of endometrial-like tissue at extrauterine ectopic sites.

Why Cortado Invested

1. A significant unmet medical need — For both MS and Endometriosis, there exists an unmet need for developing novel, non-surgical, and non-steroidal disease-modifying therapeutic approaches to improve quality of life. Cadenza’s oral therapeutic will have immunomodulation (preventing the immune system attacks) and remyelination effects (building back the myelin sheath around the neurons). For patients, this could mean not only the ability to slow the progression of the disease but also to reverse the damage done to the nerves during MS attacks. This is a significant differentiator from existing treatments available to MS patients.

2. An incredible team — Dr. Carol Curtis and Dr. Elaine Hamm combined hold more than 40+ years of experience in the biotech industry, and both have biotech investing experience. Dr. Curtis started her career in research focused on estrogen receptor signaling and later moved into venture development and company building. She went on to be the VP of Investments for five investment funds. Dr. Hamm is an experienced scientist with a focus on microbiology. She has founded multiple life science companies and successfully led two companies through collaborations with industry-known pharmaceutical giants Oblato and Boehringer Ingelheim. It is an exciting signal when founders with such broad industry experience and expertise decide to go all in on a technology they are passionate about.

3. Positive early data — Efficacy data in the early animal studies shows strong potential for success in phase 1 clinical trials. Studies were conducted in two different animal models, and they demonstrated that CAD-1 reduces motor disability, increases functional remyelination, and induces neuroprotection.

Looking Ahead

At Cortado Ventures, we are dedicated to supporting groundbreaking technologies and visionary entrepreneurs who strive to impact society positively. Our investment in Cadenza Bio reflects our belief in Oklahoma’s innovation and entrepreneurship. We have firm conviction in the Founders, Dr. Carol Curtis and Dr. Elaine Hamm, as they have made great strides in our ecosystem. Both founders have extensive experience advising, executing early-stage fundraising, and leading business development activities for life sciences companies.

Cheers to innovation!

About Cortado Ventures
Cortado Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in ambitious, growth-driven companies, backing a new generation of economic prosperity for the Midcontinent region, defined as Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico. As one of Oklahoma’s most significant VC funds, Cortado focuses on tech companies bringing innovative solutions to the energy and logistics, life sciences, and the future of work sectors. For more information, visit

[1] Multiple Sclerosis: Facts, Statistics, and You (

[2] Multiple sclerosis — Symptoms and causes — Mayo Clinic

[3] Health economics of disease-modifying therapy for multiple sclerosis in the United States — PMC (

[4] Rate of pregnancy-related relapse in multiple sclerosis. Pregnancy in Multiple Sclerosis Group — PubMed (