After leaving Wall Street to launch a gene therapy upstart, Rachel McMinn nabs $115M to drive her first candidate to the clinic
When former analyst Rachel McMinn started Neurogene from her apartment around three years ago, she would joke that they’d get office space as soon as her living room table was no longer big enough to hold company meetings.
“We lasted about a year before my living room couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.
With several gene therapies for Batten disease and other lysosomal storage disorders in the preclinical and discovery stage, Neurogene is now bound for the clinic. And on Wednesday, they announced a $115 million Series B to get them there.
“Gene therapy has generated so much enthusiasm for patients and families with these devastating disorders, but there’s still a lot of science and innovation left on the table,” McMinn said.
The CEO said Neurogene will split the Series B funds into four “buckets,” the first of which is advancing multiple gene therapy programs into the clinic. She anticipates filing the first IND in 2021 for CLN5, a rapidly progressive subtype of Batten disease caused by a variant in the CLN5 gene.
The second so-called bucket for the Series B funds will be expanding the company’s portfolio, followed by another bucket for “augmenting our resources for our novel technology platform,” the CEO said. Then comes manufacturing.
“We’ve got the ability to make virus in-house, and the money from the financing will allow us to take that vector to the next stage and … make GMP quality vector for use in dosing and clinical trials,” McMinn said.
Because Neurogene manufactures products in-house, the biotech has gotten around the massive gene therapy manufacturing bottleneck, which has Big Pharma and big biotech spending billions on retrofitted plants and gene therapy factories.
The concept of gene therapy is simple: A viral particle is used to deliver a healthy copy of a gene to a patient with a dysfunctional gene. In the case of Neurogene’s CLN5 candidate, viral vectors shuttle a payload into the body designed to make the CLN5 gene.
“Over the next year, key milestones will be filing our first IND, completing the refurbishment of our GMP manufacturing facility, (and) advancing our programs towards the clinic,” McMinn said. After CLN5, the goal is to file one to two IND’s a year, she added.
The CEO previously served as an analyst at Piper Jaffray, Cowen and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and as chief business and strategy officer at Intercept. During her time as an analyst, McMinn said most people would stay away from investing in neurology companies “because drugs inevitably fail.”
“There’s really been nothing, very little innovation in devastating neurological disorders, for quite a long time,” she said, adding that she was inspired to jump into R&D by an older brother who is neurologically impaired.
Neurogene attracted a slate of new and old investors, including EcoR1 Capital which led the round, and Redmile Group, Samsara BioCapital, Cormorant Asset Management, BlackRock, funds managed by Janus Henderson Investors, Casdin Capital, Avidity Partners, Ascendant BioCapital, Arrowmark Partners, Alexandria Venture Investments, and an undisclosed leading healthcare investment fund.
“For me, I really want to make a difference,” McMinn said, adding later, “I’m personally driven by developing something that is life-altering for people that really have no other option.”