On hunt for better gene med delivery, Aera exits stealth with $193M and Alnylam vet at helm

Led by a 20-year Alnylam veteran, Aera Therapeutics has emerged with $193 million in hand and hopes of unlocking genetic medicine’s fullest potential.  

“There's still a lot of money out there,” Aera CEO Akin Akinc, Ph.D., told Fierce Biotech in an interview. “If the problem is the right problem and the technology is the right technology, there's still money to be raised. We’re in quite a fortunate position and obviously that was part of the reason for me making the jump here.”

Akinc took the helm last September, joining Aera after spending nearly 20 years at Alnylam, where he most recently served as head of oncology. Aera itself was founded in 2021 and is based around a delivery platform from the lab of Feng Zhang, Ph.D., a world-renowned synthetic biology and functional genomics expert who works at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Akin Akinc, Aera CEO
Akin Akinc, Ph.D. (Aera Therapeutics)

When Zhang approached Akinc about Aera, the CEO said it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“It checked all the boxes—and then some,” Akinc said.  

The biotech’s delivery platform—dubbed PNP for proprietary protein nanoparticle—is based on endogenous human proteins and is designed to expand the reach of genetic medicines to different tissues and applications so more patients can benefit.  

As the genetic medicine space has exploded over the last decade, the advancement of delivery technologies has remained slow, Akinc explained, with therapies typically restricted to the liver and ex vivo settings—something Aera hopes to change.

“We’re far from reaching the full potential of what genetic medicines can do,” the CEO said. “And that's really because we're limited by the delivery solutions we have available to us.”

Akinc described endogenous proteins—which have the ability to package and transfer genetic cargo—as “treasures available to us.” In fact, this is where the biotech’s name comes from. Aera is derived from the Latin word aerarium, which people in ancient Rome used to describe the public treasury.

Aera’s tech treasure chest also includes a therapeutic enzyme platform centered on discovering compact and programmable gene editing enzymes. The small size of the enzymes could potentially help tackle the packaging and delivery problems current gene editing systems face.

The Boston-based biotech’s science has clearly drawn in investor support, raising $193 million in a combined A and B series financed by Arch Venture Partners, GV and Lux Capital. The money is expected to last through 2025, according to Akinc, with the funds going toward expanding and building out its platform and team. However, it’s still too early to consider specific therapeutic indications, the CEO added.

The newly emerged company, which currently has about 50 employees on its roster, is looking to increase head count by 30 this year—somewhat of an anomaly during a prolonged bear market rife with biotech layoffs.   

“This is a tough market for a lot of people, but in some ways, if you have the resources, it's kind of a great time,” Akinc said. “There's some really great people out there now that are becoming available.”

The biotech also holds an impressive roster of board members, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals' former president Vicki Sato, Ph.D., with Alnylam’s founding and former CEO John Maraganore, Ph.D., as chair.