Alexion founder Squinto helms OrbiMed-backed startup with some Yale gene therapy tech

OrbiMed’s executive partner and a founder of rare disease biopharma Alexion (now AstraZeneca), Stephen Squinto, Ph.D., is taking the reins at non-viral gene therapy biotech Gennao Bio.

Squinto, who co-founded the biotech with Peter Glazer, M.D., Ph.D., Elias Quijano and Bruce Turner, M.D., Ph.D., last year, nabbed a $40 million series A this week and was officially made its chief and chair (but will also remain as an OrbiMed executive partner).

That financing, co-led by OrbiMed and Logos Capital with help from Surveyor Capital, will go toward its early work on a gene monoclonal antibody platform exclusively licensed from Yale University as well as on targeted nucleic acid therapeutics for cancer and rare monogenic skeletal muscle diseases.

Squinto spent more than two decades at Alexion as its co-founder and head of R&D but left in 2015 (and ahead of its 2020 buyout from AstraZeneca), moving over to the VC world and working at OrbiMed for the past six years.

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Now, at Gennao Bio, he’s back in biotech management, after being an interim CEO at Passage Bio, another genetic medicines company he helped found via OrbiMed, stepping down to hand over to full-time chief Bruce Goldsmith, Ph.D.

He’s back at the helm, steering Gennao Bio and its GMAB technology. This taps a new, cell-penetrating antibody to non-covalently bind to and deliver therapeutic levels of a wide variety of nucleic acid payloads to select cells.

This non-viral delivery platform is different from more traditional gene delivery systems, the biotech contends, as it can deliver multiple types of nucleic acids, allows for repeat dosing and employs well-established manufacturing processes. It could also be a safer route of delivery. Gennao says it is working on this delivery system with an early focus on addressing “significant unmet needs in oncology and rare monogenic skeletal muscle diseases,” though, as you might imagine in such early work, specifics are not being shared.