Mapping your neuroimmune system

Cantos Ventures
Published in
4 min readJun 13


Why we invested in Modulo

You probably know someone who has suffered from a degenerative brain disease, whether it’s Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or something even less understood like viral induced Guillain Barre’s. You’ve seen the symptoms of a mother forgetting her son’s name, a husband who can’t recognize his wife of 50 years. You’ve heard stories about a perfectly healthy thirty year old who suddenly found herself paralyzed.

Neurodegenerative diseases are as diverse as they are pervasive. They often manifest as diseases of old-age but can also be driven by genetic susceptibilities. Sometimes they pop up as chronic effects of an infection. Any attempt to understand how these diseases start and progress seem to send scientists in circles, with little knowledge on how to reverse and regulate even aspects of neurodegeneration.

A recent focus on microglia is changing this.

Microglia are the housekeeping cells of the brain. They circulate the brain checking in on neural cells, detecting minute changes, and responding to maintain homeostasis. They help cells communicate, remove unwanted synapses, and aid in the formation of neural circuitry. For decades, microglia flew under the radar, outshadowed by their flashier neuron cousins who interact with the physical world via electrical signals.

Source: Cell

We now know that microglia are critical to maintaining homeostasis. They exist in several states and can act for good as easily as they can act for bad (ex: clearing away diseased vs healthy cells and vice versa). We also know that this microglial malfunction and state change plays a role in every disease that impacts the central nervous system — both chronic and acute. Age-related and traumatic.

What we don’t know is how microglia toggle between these states. If we design a remote to control this state-change, we uncover a major missing puzzle piece to CNS diseases.

Modulo is designing this very remote by first building the map.

In mapping all the states microglia can exist in with a combination of wet-lab and in silico measurements, Modulo uses multiple data sources (including actual brain samples) to understand exactly how microglia function…and how they go rogue. Using this platform as a map, they design drugs that first target and then perturb malfunctioning microglia from a degenerative to a protective state — a control switch on inflammation.

What does this mean in practice? Think slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. Maintaining and maybe even reversing chronic autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or Guillain Barré’s Syndrome. Preventing brian tumors from growing unnoticed. Reducing neuronal misfirings associated with depression and anxiety. Lowering cognitive impairment associated with viral infection like brain fog. Even creating a general anti-inflammatory for the brain — a “Tylenol of the brain” of sorts — becomes a possibility, something that would immediately help blunt the burden of a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Modulo’s platform can address all of this, though the team is starting with developing a proprietary drug for frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and C9orf72-mediated amyloid lateral sclerosis, a type of ALS. While it makes sense to go after a well-defined patient population with acute need like this one, focusing on FTD/ALS is personal for founder and CEO Mike Horowitz, who is watching his best friend’s mother battle the disease with no treatment options beyond hope. Given the strong genetic risk, Mike formed Modulo with the intent of getting a treatment to patients before his friend may need one.

Modulo’s team is archetypical for a company operating at the edge of computation and life sciences. A lawyer by training, Mike spent the last twenty years in biotech as an operator. He met his co-founder Scott Patterson while the two were at Notable Labs, a predictive oncology company built on automation. Mike and Scott’s technology background is perfectly coupled with scientific co-founder Dr. Justin Ichida’s deep understanding of neurodegenerative disease, specifically modeling these diseases with patient-derived cells. Modulo’s full-stack team includes cell biologists, neuroscientists, immunologists, and computational and drug development experts.

Mike, Scott, and Justin represent a rare breed of founders who get the science, execute at warp-speed, and never lose sight of the patients while doing so. They are heavily involved in patient communities and are letting these relationships inform design choices. We’re incredibly excited to partner with the Modulo team and join our friends at Initialized, Builders, Refactor, Hawktail, and others as we build the map and key for CNS diseases. To hear more directly from the team, check out Mike and Scott on Near Frontier.



Cantos Ventures

A venture firm built for concept-stage startups building the near frontier.