Drug Development

Synthorx lines up some big synthetic biology R&D goals after grabbing a $10M round

Synthetic biology offers some dramatic possibilities in the drug development world. And now one of the upstart pioneers in the field of synthetic life has picked up a notable $10 million round to attempt a breakout move using artificial proteins in preclinical development.

Synthorx’s B round won’t rank in size as a standout in a big venture year like 2016. But if it’s right, and the science works as billed, the developer will use its cash over the next three years to line up the first clinical programs that will attempt to create entirely new therapeutic proteins and peptides by tinkering with the collection of amino acids that are used by nature to build them.

The use of synthetic amino acids, in this case relying on some landmark work in the lab of Scripps’ Floyd Romesberg, promises to complete research into new drugs stymied by earlier roadblocks on scalability and cost efficiency. And the company’s 8-member staff – set to grow now to 16 – is starting out with a focus on non-opioid pain killers, a practical but vexing challenge in the drug development world.

Initially, says CEO Court R. Turner, the biotech can also start out by tackling some obtainable objectives, like coming up with reengineered drugs that can be dosed weekly instead of daily. Further down the line lie bigger targets, like undruggable objectives that can provide a breakthrough opportunity.

“We signed one pharma partner in February,” says the CEO, but they will have to stay in the background for now. Later, he expects Big Pharma to take a more public position, once Synthorx proves that it can come up with promising preclinical programs.

RA Capital Management, which specializes in finding biotechs with potential to hit very specific, near-term goals that can highlight tangible commercial value, led the round with Series A investors Avalon Ventures and Correlation Ventures jumping in. Andrew Levin, M.D., Ph.D., managing director of RA Capital Management, will join Synthorx’s board of directors.

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