Flagship's latest biotech could turn some of the thousands of new proteins it discovered into therapies — and it has $75M to start
Flagship Pioneering, the incubator of Moderna and dozens of other biotechs, says it has landed upon tens of thousands of previously undiscovered human proteins. The VC shop wants to potentially turn them into therapeutics.
Like other drug developers that have turned proteins into therapeutics (think insulin for diabetes), Flagship’s latest creation, ProFound Therapeutics, wants to tap into this new trove of proteins as part of its mission to treat indications ranging from rare diseases to cancer to immunological diseases.
The turn of the century brought about the Human Genome Project, which revealed 20,000 protein-coding genes, and then years later, it was found that the regions between genes might play an active role in producing RNA.
“But, yet again, somewhat similarly to what happened after the Genome Project, everyone looked at those things and said [it’s] ‘maybe junk, maybe involved in regulation of the cell. We don’t know what these things do, but they don’t code for proteins,'” ProFound CEO Avak Kahvejian told Endpoints News.
Flagship wasn’t satisfied with those musings, so the life sciences giant asked whether some RNA species could actually turn into protein, and the answer was resoundingly yes.
Now, ProFound is emerging from stealth after almost two years within the walls of Flagship, which is fueling the upstart with $75 million and 25 employees to kick everything into gear.
“It is an expansion of the dogma that you get one protein for one transcript from one gene. In some respects, it is a change in our dogma that we only have 20,000 protein-coding genes and their variants,” Kahvejian said. “We do think it’s quite a profound area of work, but not necessarily exclusively our domain, but one that the entire community can be interested in and benefit from.”
Aside from exploring whether the proteins themselves could be used as a therapeutic, ProFound will test whether the proteins could be influential in small molecules, antibodies, nucleic acid medicines, mRNA and gene therapies, Kahvejian said.
A decade-long partner and general partner at Flagship, Kahvejian has served as the initial CEO behind many of the incubator’s spinouts, including Laronde, Cellarity, Ring Therapeutics, Generate Biomedicines, Cygnal Therapeutics and Rubius Therapeutics.
He’s brought many of his Flagship peers onto the leadership team, including Kala Subramanian as president, Erica Weinstein as head of research and Vini Mani as head of platform.