Laronde banks $440M to ramp up RNA-based meds that could turn cells into protein factories

Laronde launched out of Flagship Labs this year with a lofty vision: to deliver as many as 100 new RNA medicines over the next 10 years. Now, it’s fueling that goal with a major $440 million round

“The amount of money raised reflects our ambitions. We wanted to build a big company—and we need big money to build a big company,” said Diego Miralles, M.D., CEO of Laronde and a CEO-partner at Flagship Pioneering. The company spent years under the radar at Flagship’s incubator and uncloaked in May with $50 million. 

The massive investment also reflects a broader interest in new RNA technologies thanks to the rapid success of two mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 from Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech. 

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“We stand on the shoulders of giants … Clearly, they have proven that translatable RNA can lead to the expression of protein in humans,” Miralles said, adding that the vaccines have shown RNA-based medicines can be manufactured at an “unthinkable scale.” 

With its circular RNAs dubbed endless RNAs, or eRNAs, Laronde is taking RNA beyond vaccines. It is developing medicines that give patients the ability to express therapeutic proteins in their own bodies rather than passively receiving those proteins through an injection. 

This approach could solve multiple challenges that have limited the applications of protein therapeutics, such as “where we can get them, how long they last and what they can do,” said founding CEO Avak Kahvejian, Ph.D., in May. Treatments like antibodies and peptides can be expensive to make and complex to administer to patients. Additionally, some of these treatments must be injected frequently because of their short half-lives, which can be a burden for patients. 

The series B funding, from the likes of Flagship, T. Rowe Price, Fidelity Management & Research company and BlackRock, will allow Laronde to scale up and scale out its programmable eRNA platform and develop multiple programs in parallel, Miralles said. 

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Here’s what that means: The company is building its capacity to design and generate large numbers of eRNA constructs and to do so repeatedly across a broad range of targets, Miralles said. 

Part of that capacity will come from the platform’s programmability. The eRNAs can be programmed to express any kind of protein by switching out the protein-coding component of the molecule while leaving the rest of it, the "master construct," alone, Miralles said in May. 

Another part will come from a major infrastructure build and securing talent. The company hopes to grow to more than 100 staffers this year, Miralles said. 

“Building that infrastructure is very ambitious … We are not building incrementally,” Miralles said. “Why all that capital? We want to invest that now; we don’t want to stretch money over many years.” 

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Though “a lot of pharma companies” have reached out to Laronde, it has intentionally avoided partnerships as it built its platform and company, Miralles said. But it will change its tune with time as it builds its pipeline and looks to tap into the expertise of other companies in certain therapeutic areas, he added. 

Laronde is not sharing just yet which disease areas it is most interested in, though Kahvejian noted in May that the company saw opportunities in rare diseases, chronic diseases, vaccines and beyond.