Moderna vets help launch new RNA venture with $300M in largest financing round of 2023 so far

Recession? Trepidation? Macroeconomic challenges? Not so for one new biotech that’s officially burst onto the scene with the largest private financing round since September 2022. 

ReNAgade Therapeutics unveiled Tuesday after closing a $300 million series A, fueled by the promise of RNA technology and a leadership team made up of Moderna vets. And it’s jumping out of the gate with about 100 employees and a new collaboration. 

The financial windfall can be at least partially explained by ReNAgade’s top brass, with a couple of former Moderna execs at the helm. Chief Scientific Officer Pete Smith, Ph.D., was the senior vice president of nonclinical work at Moderna for more than three years before joining Alnylam in 2017, where he ascended to chief early development officer. He’s joined by Chief Operating Officer Ciaran Lawlor, Ph.D., who was a principal scientist at Moderna before working at Boston Consulting Group. It’s Lawlor’s first time in a biotech C-suite. 

At the helm is Amit Munshi, a serial biotech founder and chief executive who was most recently the CEO of Arena Pharmaceuticals prior to Pfizer’s acquisition. And he’s got a rebuttal at the ready when asked why the industry shouldn’t think of ReNAGade as Moderna 2.0.

“We haven't solved the foundation of RNA medicine,” Munshi said in an interview with Fierce Biotech. “If we want to get to all these different tissue types with RNA medicines, we're not even at 1.0. ​​RNA medicine, despite all the advances that have been made over the last 15 or 20 years, is still just at the beginning.” 

The differentiator for ReNAgade is fusing a myriad of technologies under one platform to significantly grow where RNA therapies could be delivered, particularly by adding gene editing capabilities. Munshi says preclinical data in nonhuman primates in three extrahepatic tissues have provided foundational evidence for up to 20 indications, though he wouldn’t elaborate yet on which tissue types have been explored. 

The biotech’s potential has already spurred at least one partnership. ReNAgade is linking its delivery-focused platform with Orna Therapeutics’ circular RNA technology to launch a joint venture, drawing in Merck & Co. as the first customer. ReNAgade was mum on financial details, but Munshi said Merck has the option to identify between three and five targets.

ReNAgade and Orna will share the milestone payments from Merck (though the split is undisclosed), with one payment already unlocked after locating a target in the vaccine space. It may be just the beginning for ReNAgade and Orna, with the potential for more partnerships available. 

“We can drag them, they can drag us and it's beneficial for everybody,” said Munshi. 

The fundraising round was co-led by MPM BioImpact, at least the third round MPM Capital has contributed to or led so far this year that’s eclipsed $30 million. Smith has been an executive partner at the firm since 2021 when he joined to get ReNAgade off the ground, his most ambitious project since being plucked out of a temporary retirement to join Moderna in 2014. It was there that Smith began working on the first ionizable lipid, MC3, which coincidentally was used when he moved to Alnylam and began working on what’s now Onpattro. Pioneering RNA delivery methods is in Smith’s blood, so to speak. 

“The whole thing is a story, and it's a continuum,” he said. “And it's been a great story.” 

The next chapter in ReNAgade’s story, according to Munshi, will center on prioritization, with a decision on which programs to lead out of the gate still being decided. The company’s internal work is “moving faster than we expected,” and a pipeline is likely to be unveiled within the next year, the CEO added.