Kriya snags $80.5M to push gene therapy beyond rare disease

Many gene therapies are designed for monogenic diseases—that is, ailments caused by a defect in a single gene. But these treatments are just “scratching the surface” of what gene therapy can accomplish. Enter Kriya Therapeutics, which raised $80.5 million to develop gene therapies for more complex—but more common—diseases like diabetes.

The cash will push a trio of adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapies for metabolic diseases toward the clinic. It licensed two programs from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the third from the National Institutes of Health, but it plans to discover its own gene therapies as well as pick up treatments from academic teams that may not otherwise be able to translate their research into medicines.

All three programs have some application in diabetes. KT-A112 delivers the genes to produce insulin and glucokinase through an injection deep into the muscles, while KT-A832 delivers the gene to produce modified insulin growth factor 1 through an injection into the pancreas. And KT-A522 is injected into the salivary glands to give patients the gene to produce a GLP-1 receptor agonist, which could be used to treat severe obesity as well as Type 2 diabetes.

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“We view ourselves as a partner of choice for academic groups that may not have the necessary translational infrastructure that a select few universities have,” Kriya CEO Shankar Ramaswamy, M.D., told FierceBiotech.

“That will be a solution to a big bottleneck in the field. We feel fortunate to have the right team in place to do that,” he added.

That team includes Ramaswamy himself—formerly part of his brother Vivek Ramaswamy’s family of “vants,” most recently as Axovant’s chief business officer—as well as alums from gene therapy biotechs. Its scientific co-founder and chief scientific adviser is John Fraser Wright, Ph.D., co-founder and former chief technology officer at Spark Therapeutics, which developed Luxturna. And its chief manufacturing officer is Britt Petty, who led global manufacturing at AveXis, which developed Zolgensma.

It’s the right time to branch out beyond rare, monogenic diseases because of what the field has learned working on the first generation of gene therapies, Ramaswamy said. It’s learned how to overcome manufacturing challenges, design vectors and bring treatments through the regulatory process.

“Collectively, we now have a better understanding of those things. We can apply many of those learnings to now go after increasingly complex problems, starting with diseases where the biology is well known,” he said.

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The series A round, drawn from QVT, Dexcel Pharma, Foresite Capital, Bluebird Ventures, Narya Capital, Amplo, Paul Manning, Asia Alpha and Transhuman Capital, will also support the development of Kriya’s own discovery technology as well as a GMP manufacturing site.

Although Kriya’s mission is to harness gene therapy to treat more prevalent diseases, it’s not planning to take any biological risk, Ramaswamy said. That means going after diseases “where the biology is well understood and there are proteins of known therapeutic relevance.”

Instead, it’s taking on “technological risk"—namely, building delivery technology that can get the right protein to the right tissue to treat disease in a durable way. It’s keeping therapeutic areas beyond diabetes close to the vest, but Ramaswamy said it would stay clear of a disease like Alzheimer’s because “there is more work that needs to be done to characterize the disease at a biological level.”