Is there room for a new way to drug RNA? ARCH, Foresite join Atlas, The Column Group for $81M bet
By now, it appears that drug hunters have exploited just about every therapeutic angle having to do with RNA. Leveraging RNA as a therapy? Check. Making antisense oligonucleotides that induce a particular change? Check. Finding small molecules that bind to RNA, targeting the enzymes that modify it, or even creating a way to edit it letter by letter? Check, check, check. But Atlas and The Column Group — both active investors of those efforts — saw yet another approach to be tried.
About a year ago they seeded Remix Therapeutics with $16 million to look at RNA processing, where the nucleic acid and its expression gets fine tuned. Taking place post-DNA transcription but before proteins are made, said president and CSO Peter Smith, it’s “really core to determining the fate of the message.”
Now Foresite, ARCH and Alexandria Venture Investments are coming on board with a Series A that’s brought their total haul to $81 million.
A combination of data analytics, high-throughput screening and new chemistry means Remix has “a number of different avenues” to measure how RNA is processed, with the assay systems and biophysics expertise to tease out how the compounds in their libraries interact with targets.
“So we’re interested in splicing, we’re interested polyadenylation, we’re interested in [5’ end capping],” Smith said. “We’ve got some great insights into the way we can use the tech to eliminate RNA, to increase RNA expression, to correct RNA dysregulation.”
Smith co-founded the startup as entrepreneur-in-residence in Atlas, a role he took up after some years at Millenium and H3, the Eisai subsidiary focused on precision oncology. He is keeping those exact insights to himself right now, but said they promise to hit both known undruggable targets and new ones in cancer, central nervous system disorders, autoimmune diseases and rare genetic conditions.
It’s still early days, with just in vitro proof of concept data for the most advanced programs. But the company has already recruited Heather Wasserman — who until August was still a VP of corporate business development at Eli Lilly — to scout partnerships as CBO and COO.
Big Pharma has warmed up to the idea of drugging RNA over the past few years, teeing up platform deals with Arrakis and Skyhawk. Others like Accent and Expansion are quietly working on early-stage pipelines with significant venture backing.
“RNA has long been considered a prime therapeutic target, but its innate complexities have made it notoriously difficult to drug,” Atlas partner Kevin Bitterman, who’s chairing the board, said in a statement. “By focusing on RNA processing, the Remix team has identified a compelling way to pursue previously undruggable disease targets.”
For Smith, the past 12 months hasn’t just been about generating already exciting data and chemistry. It’s also tested the resilience nimbleness of the team he’s assembled — 18 and growing — at the Alexandria LaunchLabs in Kendall Square, which has had to adapt to the new pandemic normal and move the outsourced work around the globe.
Aside from Bitterman, Foresite managing director Michael Rome, The Column Group’s Leon Chen, Kristina Burrow of ARCH and Scott Biller, ex-CSO of Agios, will be plotting the next steps with him on the board.