Ro­mesh Sub­ra­man­ian births a new biotech with $50M and a plan to steer to­ward the clin­ic with drugs for rare mus­cle dis­eases

The At­las Ven­ture crew has nev­er liked be­ing splashy with mon­ey when it comes to star­tups. They like to get a good, lean team to­geth­er with some seed mon­ey, find an ex­pe­ri­enced helms­man on the bench, gath­er a string of ex­perts to lend ad­vice and of­fer enough cash in the A round — usu­al­ly with syn­di­cate part­ners — to see if they’re re­al­ly on­to some­thing with their lead drug. 

Maybe, the At­las team could even score a pre­clin­i­cal deal, like the one they did with Delinia. Be­cause they are al­ways on the look­out for a great X fac­tor re­turn for an in­vest­ment. The high­er the bet­ter. 10X will get a rous­ing cheer go­ing in this group. A fast 10X-plus works even bet­ter. And if it looks like too long a path to piv­otal da­ta, they’ve been known to bow out as well.

So along those lines, it’s not too sur­pris­ing to see the start­up mod­el Ro­mesh Sub­ra­man­ian is rolling in­to the biotech lane to­day.

Ja­son Rhodes

At­las, For­bion and MPM got to­geth­er to pro­vide the $50 mil­lion launch round, which will al­low the CEO to build up the crew as they build on the pre­clin­i­cal work they’ve been at for the past year or so — cour­tesy of At­las Ven­ture’s in­cu­ba­tion funds.

At­las’ Ja­son Rhodes will be play­ing a key role as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, help­ing steer a com­pa­ny he co-found­ed.

The biotech is called Dyne Ther­a­peu­tics and they’ve been work­ing on us­ing oligonu­cleotides to de­grade RNA re­spon­si­ble for dis­ease — with a spe­cial fo­cus on mus­cle ail­ments.

Dyne has been de­vel­op­ing its own in-house con­ju­gate tech­nol­o­gy so they can take this ap­proach and care­ful­ly tar­get it to mus­cles. Ze­ro in close enough and you can amp up your dosage and avoid off-tar­get is­sues. 

Their first dis­ease is my­oton­ic dy­s­tro­phy type 1 — or DM1 — a rare, in­her­it­ed ail­ment that caus­es mus­cle weak­ness. The plan is to build a pipeline of ther­a­pies that can kick down gene ex­pres­sion for rare, mono­genic neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­eases, start­ing with skele­tal, car­diac and smooth mus­cle. And they want to stay fo­cused on break­through ther­a­pies.

“Fifty mil­lion takes us to the clin­ic,” says Sub­ra­man­ian. He’s not shar­ing any time­lines with me — not un­usu­al in a start­up’s ear­ly days. But with these back­ers, clear, track­able progress is baked in­to every­thing they do.

This is all fa­mil­iar ter­ri­to­ry for Sub­ra­man­ian, a well-known fig­ure in biotech, who did a stint as a se­nior sci­en­tist at Pfiz­er with Art Krieg be­fore mov­ing on to co-found RaNA and then set up trans­la­tion­al re­search groups for rare dis­eases at Alex­ion — up un­til Lud­wig Hantson’s big purge in the fall of 2017.

With­in months, he was build­ing the new com­pa­ny at At­las. These days, you see one door close, you po­ten­tial­ly get to have your pick of doors. 


Left to right: Sud­hir Agraw­al, Charles Thorn­ton, Louis Kunkel, Nan­cy An­drews.

Here’s their im­pres­sive list of sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­ers help­ing Dyne stay on track:

— Nan­cy An­drews, for­mer dean of the School of Med­i­cine at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty and No­var­tis board mem­ber.

— Louis Kunkel, mem­ber of the Di­vi­sion of Ge­net­ics and Ge­nomics at Boston Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal and pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics and ge­net­ics at Har­vard Med­ical School.

— Charles Thorn­ton, Saun­ders Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Neu­ro­mus­cu­lar Re­search at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester.

— Sud­hir Agraw­al, vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor in the De­part­ment of Med­i­cine at The Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Med­ical School and founder of Idera Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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FDA au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.