Atlas-backed upstart grabs $21M A round for RNA work

After quietly ramping up with seed money from Atlas Ventures, RaNA Therapeutics is coming out of stealth mode today with the news that it has lined up $20.7 million in Series A cash. The money will finance RaNA's plunge into the so-called "junk" DNA field, long thought worthless but now viewed as a potential goldmine of new, gene-regulating therapeutics. And the venture founders brought in Arthur Krieg--an expert on oligonucleotides who founded Coley Pharmaceuticals and temporarily made the transition to Pfizer after the pharma company first snapped up the biotech for $164 million and later dumped the effort--to helm the fledgling venture.

With the financial backing of Atlas Venture, SR One, Monsanto and the Partners Innovation Fund, RaNA plans to pioneer the commercial potential of the epigenetic gene regulating activity of long non-coding RNA, aiming at correcting defective gene expression that can trigger disease. And Krieg, who had been brought into Atlas as an entrepreneur-in-residence after Pfizer shuttered his development unit, can build on the work he's been doing for years in the oligonucleotide field.

"I thought of it as an interesting area of science," Krieg tells FierceBiotech, "but it was not obvious that it would be easy to develop therapeutics." Then he met Dr. Jeannie Lee, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator working at Mass General. And the development potential became much clearer.

Krieg quickly recruited some of Pfizer's oligonucleotide refugees for the dozen positions filled so far. And he plans to add to the staff as RaNA aims at getting its first program headed to the clinic this year with one or two early collaborations to help feed the company's growth. RaNA's Series A money is enough to get the company "well into next year," says Krieg.

One of RaNA's first tasks will be to narrow down the broad range of potential drug programs to a handful of the most promising. Krieg notes that the rapid in vitro and in vivo discovery work can be handled in a matter of weeks, offering a shortcut to the clinic.

Monsanto's involvement in the Series A springs from a partnership it struck with Atlas to explore new technologies that could also have an impact on the kind of plant science the multinational is most interested in.