Can a pair of top AveXis alumni steer a new gene therapy upstart to R&D glory? 3 VCs bet $60M on it
VCs love few things more than a proven executive team when it comes to launching a new company. And now a group of A-listers has turned to a pair of top execs out of AveXis to steer the latest gene therapy player into the clinic.
The biotech is Waltham, MA-based Affinia and the two execs are Sean Nolan and Rick Modi — the former CEO and CBO respectively of AveXis, the gene therapy pioneer that fetched $8.7 billion in a sale to Novartis. Nolan has now taken the chairman’s role at Affinia while Modi moves up to the CEO post at the company.
Both were key players on a team that steered Zolgensma to the market as the most expensive once-off drug now available. They worked closely with CSO Brian Kaspar, who was blamed by Novartis for including manipulated data in their marketing application, triggering a scandal that consumed Novartis for weeks. Kaspar vehemently denied the accusation, though, and the scandal quietly dissipated with the FDA taking none of the actions it had threatened.
The biotech’s promo blast this morning suggests Affinia is on to a better AAV tech platform than what’s currently in circulation. Backing up that boast are 3 scientific founders:
Luk Vandenberghe, Botond Roska and Aaron Tward.
— Vandenberghe, a professor at Harvard Med, is credited as a co-inventor of AAV9. He developed the tech that was developed at the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center under a collaboration between Lonza and Massachusetts Eye and Ear.
— Roska is the director of the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel.
— Tward is an assistant professor at UC-San Francisco.
“Affinia Therapeutics is bringing together complementary expertise allowing us to realize a rational design future for AAV vectors, promoters and other components of gene therapies. By leveraging synthetic and systems biology combined with high-throughput screening and tissue and single-cell resolution, we are aspiring to achieve much-needed improved pharmacological control of this novel modality in medicine,” said Vandenberghe in a prepared statement.
That lineup warranted a $60 million launch round from the seed investors at F-Prime Capital and New Enterprise Associates, with Atlas jumping in for the first time.