Orbital Therapeutics raises $270M series A for next-gen RNA meds, loops in 2 more execs

Orbital Therapeutics has raised an eye-popping $270 million for its collection of RNA tools and pursuit of next-gen medicines, while also managing to bring two new execs into its circle. 

Orbital CEO Giuseppe Ciaramella
Orbital co-founder and CEO Giuseppe Ciaramella, Ph.D. (Orbital Therapeutics)

“RNA really has the opportunity for being such a disruptive tool,” Orbital co-founder and CEO Giuseppe “Pino” Ciaramella, Ph.D., told Fierce Biotech. “I think for the right quality of proposal, there is still appetite in markets to support those ideas.” 

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech’s hefty series A financing—the largest industry fundraise so far this year—was led by Arch Venture Partners, with participation from initial backers a16z Bio + Health and Newpath Partners alongside multiple new investors.

“Arch obviously has a long-standing track record of building companies from scratch in disruptive fields,” Ciaramella said about Orbital’s head investor, which touts an impressive roster of portfolio companies such as Alnylam, bluebird bio, Karuna and Agios.

Despite challenging market conditions, Ciaramella thinks Orbital resonated with investors because of its collection of RNA tools and tech as well as the team members the biotech has attracted. Ciaramella helped establish the young biotech last year alongside a host of other distinguished co-founders, including John Maraganore, Ph.D., former founding CEO of Alnylam and chair of Orbital.

Ciaramella has an impressive track record himself as the current president of gene therapy biotech Beam Therapeutics, having garnered experience at Big Pharmas Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Boehringer Ingelheim before jumping to Moderna. There, Ciaramella served as chief scientific officer of the infectious disease unit, where he was key in developing some of the first mRNA vaccines to be dosed in humans—science that ultimately led to Moderna’s world renowned COVID-19 vaccine.

Now, Ciaramella is hoping Orbital can do something similar, holding the lofty goal of improving global health by releasing the full potential of RNA-based medicines—except for small interfering RNA, an area Maraganore’s Alnylam already works heavily in. Orbital is building out a new platform that includes both established and emerging RNA tech, delivery methods and automation with the aim of developing a portfolio of medicines that increase durability and expand delivery to more cell types and tissues.

“We have essentially collected under one roof one of the most expansive toolboxes that I'm aware of in RNA medicines,” Ciaramella said.

This toolbox includes linear RNA, circular RNA and lipid nanoparticle (LNP) tech. The circular RNA innovation has a patent with Stanford University, an institution the biotech is connected to via co-founders Howard Chang, M.D., Ph.D., and Ravi Majeti, M.D., Ph.D. Orbital has also licensed emerging tech in LNP, the science used in Moderna’s COVID vaccine, with hopes of delivering to a wide array of tissues.

While he didn’t disclose any indications the company is looking into, Ciaramella said Orbital’s portfolio currently expands across three strategic pillars: next-gen vaccines, immunomodulation—therapies that take aim at modifying immune responses—and protein replacement. The CEO said it was difficult to precisely pin down a timeline for nominating programs but predicted a four-year time frame.

The $270 million financing will go toward further platform development, conducting research, accelerating programs and building the company out. Currently, the 39-person team is split across either side of the country, with one Orbital hub in Cambridge and another in San Francisco—close to Stanford.

The biotech is also bringing two new members into its C-suite, selecting Niru Subramanian to serve as chief operating officer and Jonathan Piazza as chief financial officer. Subramanian joins from Rheos Medicines, where she was chief operating officer. Before that, she served as senior vice president of corporate development and business planning at Agios Pharmaceuticals, where she oversaw the $2 billion sale of the company’s oncology unit to Servier in 2020. She has also held several senior roles in Novartis’ vaccine department.

Meanwhile, Piazza joins from Silverback Therapeutics, where he guided the company’s $242 million IPO in 2020 and its reverse merger with ARS Pharma last year. The two new additions have doubled the size of Orbital’s top team, joining Ciaramella and Chief Scientific Officer Gilles Besin, Ph.D., who previously worked with Ciaramella at Moderna. The company is recruiting a chief legal officer.

“Key to our long-term success is having a team that not only brings experience, but also passion and drive for the work we are doing,” Ciaramella said in an April 26 release.   

The young company already has a partnership in the bag, one that the CEO says has helped “jump-start” Orbital and bring in good talent. Ciaramella has helped set up a research and licensing deal with Beam that gives the company access to Orbital’s RNA tech in gene editing and cell transplantation, while Orbital can use Beam’s nonviral delivery tech for vaccines and specific therapeutic proteins.  

In his dual role, Ciaramella said he’s ensuring the two companies work effectively together until Orbital eventually becomes the independent company it’s designed to be.

While the RNA space has become much more crowded recently, Ciaramella still believes Orbital stands apart from the rest. Though a few other companies have access to innovative tech like circular RNA—such as Merck & Co.-partnered Orna Therapeutics and Flagship-backed Laronde—Ciaramella believes Orbital’s collection of tech sets it apart.

“Orbital has assembled potentially the most comprehensive toolbox of any of those companies that I'm aware of, at least from publicly disclosed information,” the CEO said. “By having that toolbox, we can be somewhat agnostic to which technology we are going to move forward.”