Startups, Venture

Forget RNA drugs. Accent gets $40M to develop small molecules that modify RNA instead

A Cambridge startup is stepping out today with some revelations on how proteins tweak RNA — and subsequently how a cell’s character and function is determined. The company, called Accent Therapeutics, scored $40 million in launch money to see if their new tech can deliver precision meds in cancer.

Howard Chang

The impetus for the company’s launch is a new understanding of RNA-modifying proteins, and how they might link to disease. Accent’s new findings in the field just got published today in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery.

The company’s president and CSO Bob Copeland tells me the literature in the field is still rather sparse, as researchers have only been studying these interactions over the past five years or so.

Although it’s easy to confuse what Accent is doing with RNA therapeutics, Copeland says there’s basically nothing in common.

“We’re not targeting the RNA, we’re not trying to make drugs that bind to RNA, and we’re not trying to use RNA as a therapeutic itself,” Copeland said. “Instead, we’re using small molecule drugs that inhibit the enzymes that perform modifications on RNA.”

Chuan He

If DNA is the code for life, and RNA is the blueprint for cells, then RNA-modifying proteins are the little guys that tell cells what exactly to be and do in the body. Recent studies have linked certain cancers to the activity of some RNA-modifying proteins, providing a rich new target space for drug development.

Accent happens to have a couple of experts in the space as scientific co-founders: Howard Chang of Stanford University and Chuan He of the University of Chicago. The duo brings together a broad and deep expertise in the emerging biology of this field — called epitranscriptomics — and its role in human diseases.

This Series A, backed by The Column Group, Atlas Venture and EcoR1 Capital, should get the company “quite far in preclinical discovery.” For now, the company has selected four targets in both hematological cancers and solid tumors, although Copeland is mum on the specifics.


Image: Bob Copeland. ACCENT


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