Gene on, gene off: Chroma Medicine turns lights on with $125M to control gene expression with ex-Editas, Regeneron leaders

Chroma Medicine CEO Catherine Stehman-Breen, M.D., has held a variety of titles in the past decade, including chief medical officer at Sarepta Therapeutics, chief R&D officer at Obsidian Therapeutics and vice president of global development at both Regeneron and Amgen. (Chroma Medicine)

Chroma Medicine thinks it can silence and activate genes via epigenetic editing, and the biotech uncovered itself with $125 million in financing to test the epigenome's potential in helping treat various diseases. 

The biotech is working to create epigenetic editors that can turn on or turn off genes—or perform a combination of the two—to regulate gene expression.

The epigenome is the system that informs cells how to comprehend DNA. Think of DNA as the hardware and the epigenome as the software that directs which genes are expressed and which are silenced, explained CEO Catherine Stehman-Breen, M.D., in an interview with Fierce Biotech.

Chroma's epigenetic editors are a "small tweak to the software package that sits on top of the hardware of the genome," said Vic Myer, Ph.D., president and chief scientific officer, in the joint interview. The "beauty of this system" is that Chroma's editor is only needed for a brief moment to change the local epigenetic mark set, he added.

This is done without nicks or cuts to the DNA itself, Stehman-Breen said.

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With the money in hand, Chroma will move the technology into in vivo proof-of-concept studies in mice and build out manufacturing capabilities, Myer said. The biotech has already reproduced the "critical experiments" conducted by the scientific founders, he added. 

The executives declined to disclose which diseases or areas they'd tackle first. The funding will provide runway for a "couple of years," at which point Chroma will have the data to support the next round of financing, Stehman-Breen said. 

The one-year-old startup has already combined forces with another biotech via its acquisition of Epsilen Bio, a Milan, Italy-based company working on a "somewhat parallel path," Stehman-Breen said. Together, the companies are a "powerhouse in terms of epigenetic editing therapeutics," the CEO added.

Chroma's scientific co-founders include a team of epigenetic editing, gene editing and cell therapy experts, Stehman-Breen said. The groundwork was laid by Angelo Lombardo, Ph.D., and Luigi Naldini, M.D., Ph.D., at the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy. Chroma's other scientific originators include the University of California, San Francisco's Luke Gilbert, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital's Keith Joung, M.D., Ph.D., the Broad Institute's David Liu, Ph.D., and the Whitehead Institute's Jonathan Weissman, Ph.D.

For her part, Stehman-Breen's resume includes stints as chief medical officer at Sarepta Therapeutics, chief R&D officer at Obsidian Therapeutics and vice president of global development at both Regeneron and Amgen. Prior to Chroma, Myer held interim C-suite roles at Korro Bio and Obsidian and was chief technology officer at gene-editing pioneer Editas Medicine from 2015 to 2019.

Atlas Venture and Newpath Partners provided seed capital for Chroma last year with Sofinnova Partners. Cormorant, Casdin Capital, Janus Henderson, Omega Funds, T. Rowe Price and Wellington Management joined for the series A.