Dicerna bags $25M Series B for next-gen RNAi work

Dicerna Pharmaceuticals has landed a $25 million Series B to fuel its work on a new and improved slate of gene-silencing therapies. Still in the preclinical stage, the Watertown, MA-based developer is focusing on solid tumors for its first clinical program.

Launched three years ago, Dicerna has been building a new platform for RNAi work that relies heavily on longer molecules than the ones used by RNAi pioneers like Alnylam and Sirna. The longer molecules improve on the potency, duration of action and the ability to deliver its therapies, explains Martin Williams, Dicerna's chief business officer. Dicerna believes that that the dicer enzyme holds the key to a better approach to quelling disease-causing genes, building in a docking section that can bind to antibodies and other molecules--peptides, for example--that enable more precise drug delivery.

That technology has attracted early interest from more established developers. And Dicerna plans to add new tech partnerships, building on the deals it has already struck with Kyowa Hakko Kirin and Ipsen. New investor Domain Associates led the round, with all existing investors--Oxford Bioscience Partners, Skyline Ventures and Abingworth - joining in. Since its launch Dicerna has raised an impressive $46.4 million.

Even on a conservative basis, CEO Dough Fambrough tells FierceBiotech, Dicerna should be able to use this round to extend its runway out two or three years, with potential new partnerships adding fuel to cover the burn rate. Currently Dicerna has a staff of 25, which Fambrough expects will push up to around 30 with a few new hires. Ultimately, he says, there's no telling whether the company will stay independent or get bought out. But as the Sirna acquisition demonstrated, he adds, there's a big appetite for companies with a promising RNAi discovery platform, so an eventual buyout offer wouldn't come as a big surprise.

"We are favorably impressed by Dicerna's management team and the progress it has made in developing differentiated RNAi technology, and in forming strategic alliances," said Domain Associates' partner Brian K. Halak, who is joining the board. "We believe Dicerna's broad Dicer Substrate Technology platform favorably positions the company to overcome the challenges of first generation approaches, and offers significant advantages over other technologies in the field in terms of potency, specificity and deliverability."

- here's the Dicerna release
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