Drugs built from RNA have come of age in the last decade, leading to a wave of rare disease medicines as well as vaccines that helped curb a pandemic.
Yet despite the progress made by scientific researchers and biotechnology companies, the reach of medicines based on cells’ messenger molecules is still limited. They’re largely limited to targeting diseases of the liver, meaning there are many conditions they can’t readily treat.
A new, well-funded biotech incubated by venture firm MPM Capital says it could help solve that problem.
Called ReNAgade Therapeutics, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup is debuting with $300 million in funding and a suite of technologies meant to more easily deliver RNA medicines.
“Delivery has been a little bit of a bugaboo, and an afterthought, for a lot of companies,” said Amit Munshi, ReNAgade’s CEO. “If you can't get to the right cell or tissue types, or right organs, then you’re going to be extremely limited in what you can do over time.”
ReNAgade claims it can deliver with what Munshi describes as an “all-in-one” system suitable for many different approaches. The company is developing lipid nanoparticles — the fatty spheres used in some COVID-19 vaccines and RNA medicines — that can get into different tissues and organs. It also has tools for editing RNA, and a delivery-focused collaboration with Orna Therapeutics, a buzzy biotech startup making drugs from synthetic, “circular” RNA.
“You will see a lot of companies focusing on circular RNA, or editing or finding new insertion technologies,” Munshi said. “But you rarely find all of that under one umbrella.”
ReNAgade is connected with Orna as well as pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. While still in stealth mode, the startup formed a joint venture with Orna to work on delivery technology. Orna then drew a partnership and a $100 million equity investment from Merck, meaning the work the joint venture produces will flow to the big drugmaker, according ReNAgade’s chief operating officer, Ciaran Lawlor.
ReNAgade’s work is still early. It hasn’t disclosed which diseases it aims to treat, or how far it is from clinical testing. Munshi didn’t say which tissues the company is initially focusing on, either, though he noted that “over time” ReNAgade aims to target immune, kidney or muscle cells with its medicines.
The company has large ambitions, though. Munshi said the company has filed more than 100 patents since starting up in 2021 and has hired about 100 employees, many of whom previously worked at RNA-focused drugmakers Alnylam Therapeutics and Moderna.
It’s also well funded. The company’s $300 million Series A round, led by F2 Ventures and MPM’s startup incubating-affiliate, BioImpact, surpasses most other biotech financings this year and eclipses the $270 million funding another RNA company, Orbital Therapeutics, announced last month.
Munshi said the financing will provide the startup with “several years” of financial breathing room, which could be crucial at a time when many young drugmakers are struggling to raise money.
“This capital base now not only allows us to go faster and build at critical scale, but also weather the current storm,” he said.