In Orbit: New Beam-buoyed biotech takes flight, gravitating toward the flash of RNA starlight

What do VC firm Arch Venture Partners, Moderna's former head of infectious disease vaccines Giuseppe Ciaramella, Ph.D., and Alnylam founding CEO John Maraganore, Ph.D., have in common? They’re all stakeholders in a new biotech launching in the hopes of scaling the heights of the RNA-based therapy market. 

Orbital Therapeutics took flight Wednesday with the backing of some of the heaviest hitters in the biotech industry, lending immediate credibility even in the absence of a dollar figure attached to the unveiling. The company is prioritizing RNA-based medicines with a broad focus, including vaccines and regenerative medicine. 

Beam Therapeutics appears to have also bought into the company's vision, signing a research pact to grant each other access to “respective RNA technology and non-viral delivery technology.” Orbital is handing over access to vaccine and specific protein information in exchange for gene editing tools. 

The overlap between the two companies extends beyond the announced collaboration. Maraganore, a board member at Beam, is the chair of Orbital and has tapped Beam’s chief scientific officer Ciaramella to be interim CEO. Ciaramella, who previously served as chief scientific officer at Moderna's infectious disease division, will be joined by another former colleague: Gilles Besin, Ph.D, who held a variety of roles at Moderna, will be chief scientific officer. Most recently, Besin led discovery and research efforts at Affinivax.

What’s not yet known is how much money this big-name-packed venture was able to raise. A spokesperson said the company wouldn’t disclose that information at the time. What we do know is that Orbital's initial investors include some heavy hitters like Arch Venture Partners, a16z Bio + Health (formerly known as Andreesen Horowitz) and Newpath Partners. 

“The creation of Orbital brings together a critical mass of the latest innovations in RNA technology under one roof to enable near-term clinical readiness, while advancing the durability, tissue-specific programmability and breadth of clinical applications,” said Ciaramella in a release.