Alexion co-founder Stephen Squinto is back in the game as CEO, this time for a small gene therapy player
With his name already behind a rare disease success story in Alexion, Stephen Squinto was looking for a great story to drive him to jump back into the biotech game. He found that in a fledging non-viral gene therapy company, and now he’s got a few backers on board as well.
On Tuesday, Gennao Bio launched with a $40 million Series A co-led by OrbiMed and Logos Capital with participation by Surveyor Capital. The biotech, which is looking to use its cell-penetrating antibody platform to deliver nucleic acid “payloads” during into the nucleus, had to rush for its initial series — and had a name change along the way.
“This sort of happened so quickly, and we also went through a name change recently — we were called something else up until a month ago,” CEO Stephen Squinto told Endpoints News. “We’ve engaged with a firm to develop messaging and a new logo; we should have one sometime in the next three or four weeks.”
The company was co-founded in 2020 by Squinto, Yale professors Pete Glazer, Elias Quijano and Bruce Turner after it received funding from the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale, named for Len Blavatinik, a billionaire businessman who is a chairman for Access Industries. With the $40 million, Gennao will have some lab space. For now, the company operates out of a lab on Yale’s campus.
Gennao thinks its tech licensed from Yale can obviate the need for viral vector transfer common to gene therapies, which can be difficult to make and come with some well-established safety red flags. Gennao was inspired, in part, by the success of Passage Bio and conversation with that firm’s co-founder Jim Wilson.
Wilson told Glazer and Squinto that eventually the field would have to shift away from the use of viruses in therapies. The company has had some success in preclinical trials in mice so far, and if successful, would help revolutionize the gene therapy landscape. That is what drew Squinto to the role after six years away from running a biotech.
The 25-year veteran who co-founded Alexion served the company for 23 years. Prior to that, he was one of Regeneron’s first employees, and he held a joint academic position at both the Tulane University and LSU Medical Schools. He has a history with biotech startups, and though he was ready to step away from the daily grind when he left Alexion in 2015, he was reinvigorated when he stepped into an interim CEO role at Passage Bio. His plan is to get the ball rolling at Gennao until the company is ready for someone else to take the reins.
“I wasn’t looking to jump back into an operating role, but the story here was so compelling, I had to jump back in here,” Squinto said.
This is the second gene therapy company from Glazer’s lab. In 2019, Trucode Gene Repair launched with ambitious plans of taking on CRISPR with a new, similar form of gene editing. After rebranding to Vera Therapeutics, the company switched gears entirely, though they declined to elaborate on the reasons behind the change, except to say the technology hadn’t failed.
Though the company only has a handful of employees, the funds from Series A will help boost the staff size to to around 20 or 30, he said. Funding will also help provide support to secure a battery of preclinical data.
The financing was co-led by OrbiMed, where Squinto is an executive partner, and Chau Khuong, another partner at OrbiMed, will join the board on the round.