Photo of Steve Johns, president and co-founder of Confluence

With continued IU Ventures’ investment, Indiana life sciences startup Confluence Pharmaceuticals seeks to treat autism, fragile X syndrome impairments


 Carmel, Ind. — With recent investments from IU Ventures totaling $500,000, an Indiana-based life sciences company is accelerating its efforts to find a treatment solution for those afflicted with autism spectrum disorder and fragile X syndrome.

IU Ventures, Indiana University’s early-stage venture and angel investment arm, continues to provide support to Confluence Pharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage pharmaceuticals company developing therapies for neurological disorders, including the impairments impacting focus, communication and social avoidance/withdrawal that accompany fragile X syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. These impairments represent core afflictions to affected individuals, and there are currently no clinical treatments to address and improve these conditions. Confluence’s lead drug has demonstrated the ability to rescue these core impairments and has received orphan drug designation for fragile X syndrome in the U.S. and Europe, ensuring a faster, cost-effective route to market along with market exclusivity for its therapy.

Steve Johns, president and co-founder of Confluence

Steve Johns, president and co-founder of Confluence

“Our team of specialized experts — with the strong support of IU Ventures and our other investors — is motivated to leverage its technology for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder and fragile X syndrome, and we hope to bring to market what would be the first treatment to address the core impairments of FXS,” said Steve Johns, president and co-founder of Confluence. “We are excited about the progress we have made in unlocking the potential of our lead compound, enhancing and expanding our product development pipeline, and working with key partners in the FXS and ASD communities, as we aim to change the way people think about and treat these disorders.”

Confluence, which is headquartered in Carmel, Ind., is an exclusive licensee of foundational intellectual property developed at IU through the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office by former faculty member Dr. Craig Erickson, a leading expert in fragile X syndrome, Confluence’s lead scientific advisor and now chief of the Fragile X Syndrome Research and Treatment Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Steve Johns received a master’s degree from the IU Kelley School of Business, while Confluence chairman and co-founder Boyd Sturdevant Jr. also is an IU alumnus.

This spring, IU Ventures has invested $200,000 in Confluence through the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, which aims to bridge gaps in venture funding by making equity investments in high-potential early-stage companies with IU affiliations. This investment follows the fund’s $100,000 bridge investment, made in 2020, and an initial $200,000 investment in 2018.

Confluence is currently raising an expanded bridge round, which will convert into a Series B offering, and has exceeded its target raise of $600,000. This funding will be used to advance the company’s Phase II clinical trials for its treatment of fragile X syndrome. It will also seek to develop drugs and therapies for autism spectrum disorder and other similarly anchored neurological conditions. The company has conducted the majority of its clinical trials at the IU School of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Confluence also continues to enhance its team of practicing physicians, researchers and business professionals. The company recently announced the addition of Don Bailey, Ph.D., an internationally known expert on young children with disabilities whose work focuses on children with fragile X syndrome, to its Scientific Advisory Board and Patient Advocate Advisory Board

Image of Teri Willey, managing director of IU Ventures

Teri Willey, managing director of IU Ventures

“IU Ventures is pleased to continue its support for Confluence’s team of experts, who span the fields of education, business and research, as they work to advance this critical therapy to improve the capabilities and quality of life of individuals with fragile X syndrome and autism spectrum disorder,” said Teri Willey, managing director of IU Ventures. “It’s exciting how a convergence of academic innovation, patient need and entrepreneurial interest is helping generate a sense of hope for people living with these impairments.”

As they continue their clinical work, members of the Confluence team are also helping build awareness for their research as they engage in regular dialogue with patients, families and advocates, as well as with investors seeking to contribute to bring a critical therapy to the market.

To this end, Confluence participated in this month’s RESI: Redefining Early Stage Investments conference, hosted by Life Science Nation, which connects early-stage ventures with global investors and collaborators seeking to support and advance major innovations across the areas of drugs, devices, diagnostics and digital health. The conference offered participants an opportunity to hear about Confluence’s unique platform for treatments for a variety of neurological diseases and the potential of its lead drug to bring first-of-its-kind therapy.

Confluence will also take part in next month’s National Fragile X Foundation International Fragile X Conference, the largest event of its kind in the world. The biennial conference, which will be held from July 14 to 17 in San Diego, will bring together around 1,000 professionals, caregivers, self-advocates, researchers and family members from around the world to gather and learn more about fragile X syndrome and activities aimed to support the community impacted by the genetic disorder. Confluence’s scientific founder Dr. Erickson will be among those presenting a keynote session on clinical trials in fragile X syndrome.

Fragile X syndrome is considered a rare genetic disorder affecting more than 1.4 million patients globally, 180,000 of whom live in the U.S. It is the leading known genetic cause of autism spectrum disorder, and about half of fragile X syndrome patients have autism. The annual cost of care per patient ranges between $40,000 and $80,000, and a report from the IU Kelley School of Business estimates a total lifetime cost of care exceeding $3.2 million including costs for behavioral and speech therapy and in-home parent consultations.

About IU Ventures:

IU Ventures invests in and supports IU-affiliated early-stage companies. Its investment programs include the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, IU Angel Network, Shoebox Fund and Innovate Indiana Fund. It further supports IU founders through the Executive in Residence Program and IU Founders and Funders Network. Student support is provided through a variety of engagements, including the new IU Venture Fellows Program. Each program takes unique approaches to accelerate and support the positive impacts that entrepreneurs affiliated with IU already achieve across the world. IU Ventures is a recognized leader in increasing opportunities for diverse and historically underserved entrepreneurs and investing in Indiana startups with a shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Media Contact:

Ryan Piurek
IU Ventures