Skyhawk, copying Dragonfly model, gets cash for RNA R&D

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Tim Disney—the great-nephew of Walt Disney—is among those who have signed term sheets. (gawriloff/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Skyhawk Therapeutics has raised $8 million to move small molecules that correct RNA expression toward the clinic. The startup draws on the same striking mix of executives and investors that have powered natural killer cell player Dragonfly Therapeutics to a deal with Celgene.

Waltham, Massachusetts-based Skyhawk is taking a different therapeutic approach to its sister company. Its focus is on using small molecules to target RNA and correct its expression. 

That opens up a range of therapeutic avenues linked to RNA mis-splicing for Skyhawk to explore, including targeting oncogenes once seen as undruggable and treating neurological conditions. Exon-skipping-driven cancer indications are top of Skyhawk’s hit list. The goal is to get into human testing next year.  

Whatever the indication, Skyhawk will draw on technology designed to enable the targeting of RNA binding pockets at certain moments during splicing. Skyhawk thinks this will reverse the exon skipping that underlies certain diseases. 

Dragonfly CEO Bill Haney co-founded Skyhawk and has taken up the executive chairman post at the startup. Haney, following the unusual blueprint that got Dragonfly started, has largely shunned the typical sources of early-stage biotech funding in favor of family offices to get sister company Skyhawk off the ground. 

RELATED: Celgene bags option on NK cell-based blood cancer assets

That means Tim Disney—the great-nephew of Walt Disney—is once again among those who have signed term sheets. Haney and Disney’s relationship goes back years; the pair co-founded a film company in 2000. And when Haney came to set up a prefab home business in 2007, Disney was among the people to invest in the startup. 

Disney is joined by fellow Dragonfly backer the Duke of Bedford and a name more familiar in biotech circles, Alexandria Venture Investments. 

This time around, Haney has put together the syndicate to support the work of Kathleen McCarthy, a researcher who specialized in aiming small molecules at RNA splicing during stints at Roche and the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Foundation. At both organizations, McCarthy worked on the SMA drug Roche licensed from PTC Therapeutics. McCarthy is serving as CEO of Skyhawk. 

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