Flagship launches Foghorn Therapeutics with $50M commitment

Foghorn has already worked on six programs based on its Gene Traffic Control technology. (Nadine Doerlé)

Flagship Pioneering bagged a whopping $618 million in capital last December and it is wasting no time. The venture capital firm launched Foghorn Therapeutics, a biotech working to understand the body’s chromatin regulatory system in order to create drugs for cancer and other diseases.

The company likened the chromatin regulation, which directs gene expression in cells, to air traffic control: “Just as airports need an air traffic control system to direct which planes move and when, where, and in what order, our bodies need a system to control which genes our cells express, and when, where, in what order, and what quantity.”

A breakdown in chromatin regulation is a “major, unexplored cause” of many diseases, including more than 20% of cancers, the company said. Foghorn set up shop in 2016 to develop new drugs to target problems in this system. Its founders are Flagship’s Douglas Cole, Gerald Crabtree of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stanford University, and Cigall Kadoch, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute. Adrian Gottschalk, previously a senior vice president and neurodegeneration therapeutic area head at Biogen, has signed on as CEO.

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“The chromatin regulatory system represents a pivotal, unexploited area on which to build effective new therapeutic strategies. Foghorn Therapeutics has been founded and is uniquely positioned to do this,” Cole said.

Since its founding, Foghorn has developed the Gene Traffic Control platform and created six programs, as well as a discovery engine that will yield many more drug targets. While the company did not disclose specific indications, it is interested in developing candidates for a range of cancers and is looking into using its tech in neurology and immunology.

"At Foghorn, we envision a world where patients can regain control of their genes to battle cancer and other serious diseases," Gottschalk said. "The applications of our Gene Traffic Control platform are incredibly broad across cancer, neurology, and immunology. This is just the beginning of an entirely new approach to controlling gene expression and to bringing new medicines to patients with intractable diseases." 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Flagship Pioneering has committed $50 million to Foghorn Therapeutics, but has not yet invested the full amount.