Tiny Rana makes a play for mRNA with Shire deal

Dive Brief:

  • Irish pharma Shire plc has sold off a messenger RNA platform to Rana Therapeutics, a small Cambridge-based biotech backed by several blue chip venture firms. 
  • In return, Shire will receive an undisclosed equity stake in Rana and is eligible for future milestones and royalties on any products developed with the mRNA technology, according to a statement from Rana. 
  • Rana will pick up work on two preclinical programs in cystic fibrosis and urea cycle disorders, adding a number of former employees from Shire who have worked on the technology since 2008. 

Dive Insight:

Founded in 2011, Rana was backed by Atlas Venture, SR One and Monsanto in a $20.7 million Series A financing five years ago. 

MRL Ventures, Merck & Co.'s early-stage therapeutics fund, led an oversubscribed Series B in 2015 that raised $55 million, helping fund preclinical and IND-enabling studies for Rana's lead in-house programs. 

Wednesday's deal with Shire boosts Rana's technological chops, giving it access to Shire's messenger RNA platform and bringing onboard an experienced team from the specialty drugmaker. 

"This acquisition results in the most comprehensive RNA-based therapeutic approach in the industry and significantly expands RaNA’s ability to correct a wide range of disease genotypes regardless of mutation and access new targets not currently addressable by existing modalities," said Rana CEO Ron Renaud, who joined in 2014 after a stint as CEO of Idenix Pharmaceuticals. 

In addition to Shire's new equity stake, Rana has other ties to the Irish drugmaker. Thomas McCauley, chief scientific officer at Rana, ran global nonclinical development at Shire until joining Rana last year. 

Even with the support of Shire, Rana will have some big-name rivals for attention in the RNA space.

Exceedingly well-funded Moderna Therapeutics has attracted interest from investors and big pharma for its expansive plans to advance about a dozen programs based on messenger RNA technology. 

And a few blocks away from Moderna, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has five programs in the clinic using the biotech's RNA interference platform. Despite a clinical setback in hereditary ATTR amyloidosis, Alnylam still has promising candidates in advanced testing. 

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Filed Under: Mergers and Acquisitions / Deals
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