Jnana Therapeutics is deepening its ties with Roche, revealing Tuesday its second deal with the Swiss pharmaceutical giant since 2020 alongside a fresh round of funding.
In two separate announcements, Boston-based Jnana said it raised a $107 million Series C round and formed a new alliance with Roche to develop drugs aimed at targets in cancer, autoimmune and neurological diseases.
The Roche deal brings an additional $50 million upfront into Jnana’s coffers, with the potential of up to $2 billion more if certain milestones are met. All told, the company has now raised more than $200 million in private funding, and inked three partnerships, since its launch in 2017. The latest deals have extended its financial runway for an additional two years, according to Joanne Kotz, Jnana’s co-founder and CEO.
Jnana was formed based on the work of Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard researchers Stuart Schreiber and Ramnik Xavier. The biotech is one of several co-founded by Schreiber, who helped form Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Ariad Pharmaceuticals, among other companies. It’s developing drugs that are meant to target solute carriers, or SLCs, a class of proteins that move molecules in and out of cells.
Jnana’s lead drug candidate, JNT-517, is in a Phase 1 trial for phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disease caused by an inability to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine. JNT-517 is meant to work by blocking an SLC that helps transport the amino acid back into the blood as it’s begin filtered in the kidneys.
Inhibiting that target, known as SLC6A19, should help decrease the levels of phenylalanine in the blood, said Joel Barrish, the company’s co-founder and chief science officer. But that hasn’t yet been proven.
“Frankly, [SLC6A19] has been previously a challenging drug target in that it's been known for a while, and no one's been able to identify a development candidate for [it],” Barrish said.
A readout is expected in the first half of 2023.
Jnana is also working on four other drug candidates for undisclosed autoimmune disease and cancer targets in addition to the research it’s conducting with Roche.
Roche initially gambled on Jnana in 2020, offering the startup $40 million in upfront payments to co-develop therapeutics for autoimmune and neurological conditions.
The new deal expands those indications to include cancer, though neither company has announced specific disease targets.
Jnana has a third partnership in place with Neurocrine Biosciences.
While Jnana’s work with Roche is going well, the company hasn’t ruled out future alliances with others. “They’ve been wonderful partners, but we continue to think that there’s partnership opportunities that we can take on in the future because of the breadth of the platform,” Kotz said.
Bain Capital Life Sciences led the Series C round, which also included investors such as RA Capital Management and the venture arms of AbbVie and Pfizer.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the way in which JNT-517 works.