- Entact Bio, a Watertown, Mass.-based drug startup, emerged from stealth on Tuesday with $81 million in hand.
- Founded by an international group of researchers, the company is focused on “protein enhancement,” or restoring the function of beneficial proteins in hopes of treating diseases such as cancer or autoimmune conditions. It will be run by former Sanofi executive Victoria Richon.
- Entact’s Series A round was led by Qiming Venture Partners USA and venBio Partners, and included other investors such as Abingworth, Citadel’s Surveyor Capital and 4BIO Capital.
Many biotechnology companies focus on blocking or degrading proteins that are somehow the cause of, or otherwise caught up in, the pathology of disease. Entact, by contrast, is trying to help beneficial proteins stick around.
“They’re there within our bodies to be fixed, and to then be beneficial proteins that are able to overcome the disease,” Richon said.
Its research centers on enzymes called deubiquitinases, or DUBs, which regulate proteins within the cell. As their name suggests, these enzymes are skilled at removing molecules known as ubiquitins, which, among their many functions, can mark proteins for degradation. Entact’s scientists believe they can design drugs that bring DUBs into contact with target proteins, helping preserve them or restore their function.
Entact isn’t alone in its thinking. Vicinitas Therapeutics, a company launched in July by University of California, Berkeley chemical biology professor Daniel Nomura, is also looking at how to protect helpful proteins by tinkering with deubiquitinases.
Richon said Entact will differentiate itself by exploring whether modifying proteins by relocating them within the cell can change their function, as well as on protein preservation.
“While ubiquitin is commonly thought of as a molecule that directs proteins to the cellular garbage bin, we now know that ubiquitin also has the ability to change protein function including activation, localization, and interaction through exquisite regulation by DUBs and other enzymes,” said David Komander, one of Entact’s co-founders, in a statement.
Though Entact has not settled on which disease areas it will focus on, Richon said its research could have applications in treating cancer and autoimmune disease.
The company was co-founded in 2019 by scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the University of Liverpool in the U.K. and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia. Richon joined as CEO following a seven-year stint leading Ribon Therapeutics, a startup focused on developing small molecule drugs. Before that, she worked as an executive at Sanofi, Epizyme and Merck & Co.
The $81 million Series A round will allow Entact to expand its workforce past the dozen people currently working for it, though Richon said she does not have a specific number of hires in mind.
“We’re really excited about creating this new modality to treat disease by enhancing protein function, focusing rather than on the bad proteins that we’re inhibiting, on the good proteins within us that we can enhance for the purpose of really helping patients with that unmet need,” she said.