One Ring to rule them all? Flagship’s big bet on dominating gene therapy 2.0 attracts a $117M megaround
Over the last 18 months or so, gene therapy has come in for its comeuppance.
Long known for once-and-done boasting, staking claims for curative results on some of the most bitter diseases known to man, the field has been staggered by failure, evidence of waning effects and fears that efficacy could wicker and flame out. And given the therapies’ viral constructs, they could only be given once.
As a result, various companies have been working on different solutions. But at Flagship, which has been rethinking what thinking big is, there’s one still quite stealthy effort that aims to sweep aside the first generation of therapies and supplant it with something completely new.
The biotech is Ring Therapeutics, organized around a central big platform idea: that a new kind of virus they’ve found — anelloviruses — that typically live in harmony with your immune system, can be used in a variety of tissues for a variety of therapeutic purposes. And, they hope, anelloviruses can simply replace the still problematic adenoviruses that dominated the first wave in this race, offering a new fleet choice that can permanently alter the field.
Like other Flagship models, the platform play here is based on lengthy lab work. Ring has been in business since 2017. And you don’t see anyone sweating the fact that they’re on a hard march to their 5th anniversary with no plans to be in the clinic anytime this year. At least, neither the CEO-partner involved, Nightstar veteran Tuyen Ong, or Flagship’s Avak Kahvejian sound concerned.
For them, this is a shot at the first true disruption in gene therapy in 50 years. They’re out to make biotech history. Here’s the Flagship founding partner, Kahvejian:
You know that Flagship doesn’t necessarily want to rush into the clinic with one program. We really, truly see this as a multimodality, multiproduct platform. And as such, we want to stagger a number of clinical entries together within a reasonable timeframe where they’re overlapping with each other. So all of those preclinical studies have to line up. And we want to demonstrate some of these really interesting value propositions. And picking the right way to do that is going to be important.
There’s a publication coming soon that Kahvejian is excited about. And Ong sounds happy to be in this spot, as they move into the IND stage.
I know you hear this probably from a number of different biotechs, but I often use the term, it’s a little bit corny, but it’s one Ring to rule them all. Because when you look at gene therapy, different companies are innovating on different fronts. So there’s the capsid evolution as you talked about, capsid engineering, manufacturing and the other piece, which is the payloads. What Ring is doing is actually innovating on multiple fronts. So we’ve taken these commensal viruses that are harmless, they developed specific advantages in terms of tropism, redosability, potentially being more tolerable and potent and we’ve been able to generate a platform around that…
I think the problem we have right now, John, is that we have an embarrassment of riches in regards to which diseases to target. I think how we’re looking at basically addressing the clinical indications is that one, you can have indications that address both greater tolerability, which is an issue within the gene therapy space, greater potency, the ability to address different indications that are not addressed because of lack of tropism. And then the final holy grail is to address the redosability piece.
Ong had a front-row seat on just how exciting, and frequently disappointing, the first round of gene therapies has gone. He was head of development at Nightstar until Biogen bought them out in the summer of 2019. And both of Nightstar’s main programs just flamed out in the clinic, wiping out more than a half-billion dollars in value on Biogen’s books.
Ring’s story, meanwhile, has attracted a much broader syndicate to build on the Flagship launch round.
Invus, Altitude Life Science Ventures, Partners Investment, UPMC Enterprises, as well as funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, among others, joined in alongside Flagship Pioneering. They can count this as another high-risk, high reward play in the Flagship portfolio.