Merck KGaA, Pfizer help RNA modification biotech to £12M Series A

University of Cambridge
EuroBiotech logo The venture capital wings of Merck KGaA and Pfizer ($PFE) have contributed to a £12 million ($16 million) Series A investment in Storm Therapeutics, a spinout from the University of Cambridge that is developing small-molecule modulators of RNA-modifying enzymes.

Storm, which was formerly known as Iceni Therapeutics, spun out of the university’s Cancer Research UK and Wellcome Trust-funded Gurdon Institute and secured seed funding 13 months ago. The idea was to build a pipeline of drugs targeting certain RNA-modifying enzymes Tony Kouzarides, Eric Miska and their teams identified while researching RNA epigenetics. Kouzarides has previously cofounded research reagents player Abcam (LON:ABC) and chromatin biology specialist Chroma Therapeutics.

Kouzarides and Miska turned to Imperial Innovations (LON:IVO) and Cambridge Innovation Capital to help get Storm up and running last year. Those investors have returned for the Series A, teaming up with Merck Ventures BV and Pfizer Venture Investments to give Storm the money it needs to identify small-molecule modulators of the targets identified by Kouzarides and Miska and move them into the clinic. Storm is particularly interested in the potential for the modulators to treat cancers.

A spokesperson for Imperial Innovations declined to provide details regarding how many programs Storm plans to take into the clinic and how long it will take, telling FierceBiotech the company has “nothing further to add at this time.”

The scientific concept behind the company is underpinned by understanding of the role RNA plays in cellular decision-making. Researchers at the Gurdon Institute and elsewhere have identified several families of RNA-modifying enzymes. These enzymes catalyze epigenetic modifications of RNA, an action that changes the activity of the molecule and by extension the cellular processes in which it is involved. Research suggests this RNA modification process plays a role in cancer development.

“The work that our research groups are undertaking on non-coding RNA and the enzymes that modify this RNA is giving us incredibly interesting insights into how gene expression can be modified at a cellular level,” Kouzarides and Miska said in a statement. “The funding and support that Storm Therapeutics has received from its investors will allow the development of these insights into a new class of therapeutics ready to be taken into clinical trials.”

Although Storm used to be called Iceni Therapeutics, it is unrelated to Iceni Pharmaceuticals, a Scottish company this is seeking to turn failed Merck Serono glioblastoma drug cilengitide into a treatment for multiple myeloma.

- read the release
- and Imperial Innovations’ statement

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