A new player joins the RNA editing race on the heels of Eli Lilly's $1B-plus deal
A day after Eli Lilly inked a $1 billion-plus deal to partner with a quiet RNA editing startup, a new player has emerged to turn up the volume.
ADARx Pharmaceuticals uncloaked on Thursday with a $75 million Series B round to usher its RNA programs into the clinic. The San Diego-based biotech was founded in 2019 to discover therapies that precisely target and edit single-point mutations on RNA transcripts.
Unlike gene editing, which looks to directly — and permanently – alter DNA, the goal of RNA editing is to intercept the broken messages sent out by the DNA of patients with certain diseases and correct it before it gets turned into proteins. To do so, scientists are exploiting a naturally occurring enzyme called ADAR, or adenosine deaminases acting on RNA.
ADARx’s first editing program is being developed for Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AAT deficiency), an inherited condition in which AAT, a protein that protects the lungs, isn’t the correct shape and gets stuck in the liver where it’s produced. Patients with AAT deficiency are at an increased risk for both lung and liver disease.
The team is helmed by Zhen Li, who led siRNA development at Merck before taking the senior VP role at Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals in 2014. Rui Zhu, a former Arrowhead colleague, also hopped on board as VP of R&D.
“We are excited that our RNA base editing technology could give rise to a significant pipeline of highly effective therapeutics,” Li said in a statement, adding that the company is also working on tech for inhibition, degradation and delivery across a range of genetic, cardiometabolic and central nervous system diseases.
The RNA editing space is heating up, with Roche teeing up a $3 billion-plus deal for Shape’s RNA editing platform back in August. The deal came on the heels of Shape’s $112 million Series B round in July, with Roche hoping to discover potential “one-time” cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other rare diseases. And just yesterday, Eli Lilly put down $50 million upfront and $1.25 billion in biobucks for access to five RNA editing candidates from the Dutch biotech ProQR Therapeutics.
“OrbiMed is pleased to continue to back Zhen Li and her team in the creation of an exciting oligonucleotide-based drug company, which is creating new treatment modalities,” said Carl Gordon, founding partner at OrbiMed, which co-led ADARx’s Series B round along with SR One Capital Management. Sirona Capital and Lilly Asia Ventures also chipped in.