Women in science are leading the way: A look at Cognition Therapeutics’ path to IPO

By Peggy Wallace, Managing Partner, Golden Seeds

November 4, 2021

Alzheimer’s Disease has destroyed millions of lives, and the toll is rising. The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s affects one out of every 10 people over age 65 and nearly 35% of those 85 and older. By 2050, it’s estimated that someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds. Faced with this grim forecast, the scientific community is racing to find effective treatments for this devastating disease.

A company founded and led by women is taking a lead role in the battle. Golden Seeds was an early investor in Cognition Therapeutics and we’re proud to support their groundbreaking research and their dedication to battling this and other catastrophic diseases.

On October 8, 2021, Cognition Therapeutics had its initial public offering to fund its research into treatments for Alzheimer’s and diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss in the elderly. Cognition Therapeutics, founded by Susan Catalano, Ph.D., and led by CEO Lisa Ricciardi, is now a part of the small group of women-led companies to go public – roughly less than 25 companies ever!

Susan, a 22-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, has devoted her life to battling Alzheimer’s. She co-founded Cognition in 2007, despite the many obstacles confronting women in this field, and is currently Chief Science Officer. Recognizing her talent and drive, and the potential in her mission, Golden Seeds made our first investment in the company in 2010.

Susan, along with Lisa and the entire team at Cognition, serves as an excellent proof point in the Golden Seeds mission, demonstrating the power of investing in female leaders.

Our investing always followed the science as each scientific milestone was achieved. In June 2020, Cognition received an $81 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support a 540-patient study of CT1812, Cognition’s lead candidate for Alzheimer’s disease, in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials Consortium (ACTC), bringing the total amount of grant funding raised by the company to $168.4 million, a remarkable peer validation of the company’s science by the world’s leading Alzheimer’s experts.

We salute their remarkable success, acknowledge the many hurdles they’ve overcome to get here, and celebrate what this IPO means for all women-led businesses.

Why we invested

We met Susan at Springboard Enterprises, which connects investors with women entrepreneurs. We were immediately impressed – by her background and the work she was doing. Susan had the science support, but she knew that she wouldn’t be able to tackle Alzheimer’s effectively if she did not build her own company. She realized that she had to surround herself with business people to gain support in the business world.

The City of Pittsburgh provided her first funding, making affordable labs available. The city deserves a lot of credit as being the environment that sponsored Cognition. A Pittsburgh-based incubator called Life Sciences Greenhouse, which supports life sciences start-ups, was instrumental in Cognition’s launch as well.

Ogden Ventures, an early-stage fund, was the second investor, followed closely by Golden Seeds. Many would have deemed it to be too risky of an investment at that time, based on the early state. And we knew that therapeutics is a particularly difficult field for women to break into. There are many reasons: It’s more difficult for women to get published in peer-reviewed journals. It’s harder to attract grants. And Alzheimer’s research, in general, is a very difficult field, which compounds all these issues. Ultimately, Susan overcame all of these challenges.

None of that deterred us though, and we proceeded with due diligence. Our lead investor at Golden Seeds, Dr. Nada Jain, used her deep health care experience to review the early science and associated patents and found it to be ground-breaking and promising. Our investors did fundamental work and based their decision on that analysis. Plus, we had a talented scientist like Susan explain it to our non-scientific angel investors.

In turn, Golden Seeds introduced Cognition to another organization that played a key role, Scale Investors, a group of women angel investors in Australia, which invested and facilitated clinical trials. The company went on to raise substantial capital from other angel groups, such as Tech Coast Angels and Cow Town Angels, plus other venture firms.

Eventually, the company attracted Lisa Ricciardi, a former Pfizer executive with experience in many biotech businesses, to take the company forward. Lisa joined Cognition’s board in March 2019 and became CEO one year later.

Validating their mission—and ours

Cognition has become a case study exemplifying the merits of Golden Seeds’ mission to champion and fund women-led startups. We’ve recognized that women in all categories are doing great things in the world but are not getting the funding they need.

We recently hit an incredible milestone – having invested over $150 million in over 200 women-led and women-founded companies, which have gone on to raise more than $1.5 billion of total capital, demonstrating the incredible momentum of women entrepreneurs and the commitment of those investors who want to reshape the investment landscape.

Cognition is just one example of the accomplishments that can be achieved when women-owned businesses receive financial backing. Like any entrepreneur, she needs money to prove to the world what they can do.

We have been transforming angel investing since 2005, proving there’s a better way, and the continued success of Cognition Therapeutics is a prime example.

As Lisa recently declared, “We believe our current clinical programs, the breadth of our pipeline and the depth of our management team puts us in a leadership position among neurological drug-development companies.”

In addition to Cognition, we’ve had several major exits in the past year:

These are just the latest milestones in our journey. We’re excited for what the future holds.

Read more of our Golden Seeds blogs for relevant, instructive, and inspiring insights.