Faze Medicines launches with $81M Series A, Alnylam vet heading science in play at biomolecular condensates
Once mostly unknown to the larger scientific world, the field of biomolecular condensates — cellular structures that could have big implications on neurodegenerative research — has seen a rush of investor cash in the past two years. Now, a third biotech is taking a swing at the field with a sizable initial funding round to get going.
Faze Medicines, a Third Rock-backed biotech looking to develop medicines targeting neurodegenerative diseases and potentially even more therapeutic areas, launched Thursday with an $81 million Series A round and Alnylam veteran Rachel Meyers heading up the science.
Founded by four investigators from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland — Roy Parker, Mike Rosen, J. Paul Taylor and Ron Vale — Faze will center its science around biomolecular condensates, membraneless compartments in eukaryotic cells that concentrate proteins and nucleic acids and could play a role in RNA metabolism and gene regulation.
Third Rock joins Novartis Venture Fund, Eli Lilly, AbbVie Ventures, Invus, Catalio Capital Management, Casdin Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments on the round. Faze will run with a board of directors led by biotech vet Charles Homcy, a Third Rock partner and clinical professor of medicine at UCSF, as well as Bob Tepper, another Third Rock partner, and Laura Brass of the Novartis Venture Fund.
The company will also sport a stout scientific advisory board culled from leaders in drug discovery and neurodegenerative research, including: Richard Chesworth, chief scientific officer at Kymera Therapeutics; Jim Audia, a former CSO at Constellation Pharma who is now an executive director at the Chicago Biomedical Consortium; and Merit Cudkowicz, chief at neurology at Mass General; among others.
Meyers, who spent more than 13 years at Alnylam heading research on the drugmaker’s RNAi-based therapeutics, left the company back in 2016 to be a consultant in the Cambridge area. In 2018, she joined Third Rock as an entrepreneur-in-residence and was immediately keyed in to discussions around the role of unbound structures in human cells that could be implicated in a range of puzzle-box neurodegenerative diseases.
Those conversations were taking place in Third Rock’s halls, Meyers said, between Homcy and Vale, also a UCSF professor. The discussion originally circled around the role of protein concentrating RNA structures in the cell that could be causally related to repeat expansion disorders like ALS and myotonic dystrophy 1.
“That initial conversation led to interest in thinking about how these RNA protein structures were involved in biology and involved in disease,” Meyers said. “Ultimately, we got excited about this notion of condensates and started expanding this thinking around repeat RNAs to begin thinking about the ways that RNA protein structures were involved in biology and disease.”
In the immediate term, Faze’s team will focus on those condensates to develop molecules for neuro, but the goalposts could eventually move into spaces like oncology, virology and immunology as the science develops, interim CEO and Third Rock partner Cary Pfeffer told Endpoints News. That sort of clinical potential is what helped bring Faze’s big-name investors on board, Pfeffer said, alongside Faze’s early investment in its clinical platform.
“I think we can predict that a few years from now, there will be almost every indication that is touched by the biology of biomolecular condensates so that suggests to us access points to many, many more diseases over time,” Meyers said. “What we’re excited about is the clues, and the ways diseases are connected.”
Based in Cambridge, MA, the Faze team of 12 will work to “drive toward development candidates” as it looks for a later entry into the clinic, Pfeffer said. The company will also keep building its “product engine,” including the diagnostic assays used for product development. Only one program is currently in active development, but Pfeffer said even more are approaching that stage in the near team.
Pfeffer — in what is a typical process for Third Rock — will hold the interim CEO role until Faze hires a permanent replacement. In terms of who the biotech could hire to the helm, Pfeffer was mum.
“At the end of the day, great CEOs come in all stripes and colors,” Pfeffer said. “There’s a lot of components that go into it … we have a great track record of bringing on CEOs at our company, and that’s what we’re going to do here.”
In setting up shop to chase biomolecular condensates, Faze will be running alongside two recent entries in the space. In November, Nereid launched with a $50 million Series A looking to challenge Dewpoint Therapeutics, the first and only biotech focusing on biomolecular condensates before Nereid’s entry.
Dewpoint itself launched under the leadership of Polaris Partners managing partner Amir Nashat back in January 2019 with $60 million and 15 staffers. That first-in-the-field launch came with some pretty big names on board, including ubiquitous MIT giant Bob Langer and investors in Samsara BioCapital, 6 Dimensions Capital, EcoR1 Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments, and Leaps by Bayer.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct an error. The biotech company’s name is Faze Medicines.