Jnana tops up with $107M series C, $2B Roche deal as it pushes metabolic asset into clinic

Jnana Therapeutics is hitting early-stage momentum, adding additional validation in the form of new cash and a fresh Big Pharma collaboration just as its lead metabolic disease asset launches into the clinic.

The company made the two separate announcements on Tuesday, both of which bolster Jnana’s long-term aspirations. They include the closure of a $107 million series C round, adding Bain Capital Life Sciences to an investor team that already includes the likes of Pfizer and RA Capital Management. The haul comes more than a year after the biotech raked in $50 million for a series B. 

A far bigger payout could come from a collaboration with Roche for $50 million upfront and potential biobucks that could exceed $2 billion. In exchange, Jnana is contributing discovery and preclinical work on “multiple” targets spanning cancer, immune-mediated diseases and neurology. It’s the second deal with the Swiss Big Pharma, following a collaboration in June 2020 focused on targeting SLC metabolite transporters that was itself tied to $1 billion in biobucks.

The two new announcements for Jnana add significant spring to the company’s clinical step, just as the biotech dosed its first healthy volunteers in a phase 1 study assessing JNT-517, its treatment for phenylketonuria, a metabolic disease marked by the buildup of an amino acid called phenylalanine. U.S. regulators piled onto the good news dump, granting the asset rare pediatric disease designation.

For CEO Joanne Kotz, Ph.D., and Chief Scientific Officer Joel Barrish, Ph.D., the money, doubled-down partnership and regulatory nod offer significant validation of the company’s early work. 

“Particularly notable to us is that both the financing and the deal really rest on confidence of the types of first-in-class programs that can emerge from our RAPID platform,” Kotz told Fierce Biotech. The platform uses enhanced chemoproteomics—the interaction between proteins and small molecules—to find new drugs. 

The latest funds will go toward advancing the company’s early internal pipeline, which is focused on immune-mediated diseases and cancer, Kotz explained. The cash should last more than two years, enough time to get through a clinical proof-of-concept study for JNT-517, which is slated for after the current trial. A readout of the safety data is expected in the first half of 2023.

The CEO was tight-lipped about how many targets the new Roche deal would entail or the exact indications. However, Barrish said the company would veer away from the solute carrier transporters focused on in the first deal and widen the scope to other targets. When asked about the company’s early interest in neurology, a disease area that frequently causes biotechs clinical headaches, Barrish and Kotz both emphasized that work was pretty restrained to the Roche deal and not internal programs.

“I'm very interested in certain neurological diseases … what we do is then talk to them about which targets are highly validated and have been challenging to drug historically, and those are the targets we'll work on with them,” Barrish told Fierce Biotech. Ultimately, it will be Roche that decides which diseases to work on, the CSO added.