Moma Therapeutics, a young biotechnology company trying to develop precision cancer treatments, has raised another $150 million to advance research into a family of proteins it describes as the “laborers of the cell.”
Known as molecular machines, this group of more than 400 proteins performs a variety of essential functions. They repair DNA and transport molecules across cells. They even spur muscle contractions.
Yet, research indicates these proteins can also promote diseases if they become impaired or expressed at the wrong levels. Cystic fibrosis, for example, is caused by genetic mutations that affect a transporter protein found in the lungs and other organs. Vertex, notably, has become one of the world’s most valuable biotechs thanks to a series of approved drugs that target this protein.
As molecular machines work, they undergo a series of changes in shape. For Moma, the goal is to create drugs that bind to and regulate the proteins at these key points. The company now has five programs, with two that are more advanced, according to CEO Asit Parikh.
Moma launched with $86 million in 2020, at a time when drugmaking startups faced far fewer obstacles going public or attracting lucrative buyout offers from large pharmaceutical firms.
But much has changed over the past two years. Moma began raising its latest funding round in mid-January, well into a historic downturn in the biotech market that has made financing a chief concern for many small drug companies and their backers.
The stock slide "does actually make for some challenges here and there that a lot of companies are facing," Parikh told BioPharma Dive.
Even so, Parikh noted that the financing environment hasn’t significantly changed his company’s strategy. Moma had intended to go public only once it generated data from human testing of its potential therapies — and that plan is still in place. Now, with the new funding, Moma estimates that it can operate at least until 2024, when its most advanced programs are expected to enter the clinic.
“I wouldn't say I have apprehension about the future,” Parikh said. “But I will say we do need to prepare for a non-frothy market. The last couple of years were a little bit of an anomaly; things kind of spiraled upward, really faster than anybody would have imagined and maybe faster than was wise for the market.”
“This correction,” he added, “is something that will maybe bring things a little bit back to Earth. Hopefully it won't stick around in this trend forever, but in the end what's important is that we are ready for all kinds of markets.”
At $150 million, Moma’s Series B is sizable for a mid-stage financing round. It saw participation not only from new investors like Goldman Sachs, which led the round, but also all the ones that participated in the company’s Series A round. Moma’s list of backers includes Third Rock Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, Invus and LifeSci Venture Partners, among others.
Parikh said the funding will help advance Moma’s projects, which are in the early discovery phase and directed at cancer — namely solid tumors. While additional details will be revealed once more progress is made, Parikh added that one focus of his company’s research efforts is DNA repair.
The additional cash should also help Moma expand further. The company’s headcount, currently at 54, doubled in size over the last year, and is expected to grow by another 10 or so before the end of the year, according to Parikh.
As for partnerships with larger drugmakers, Parikh said he and his team “don’t feel any pressure” to seek them out given the new funding.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re opposed to dealmaking.“It's something that we'll be very interested in pursuing at the right time with the right partner,” Parikh said, adding that Moma executives have met with a number of companies” over the last year.