Fresh from a $3.85B deal, biotech CEO sets sights on the next big thing

RaNA CEO Ron Renaud

In the biotech world, completing a deal worth billions in cash is cause for a prolonged celebration and a lengthy professional sabbatical. But just a few months after Ron Renaud completed the sale of Idenix to Merck ($MRK) for $3.85 billion, the biotech CEO's vacation is officially over. Instead, he's opening a new chapter in his career--taking the helm at the upstart RaNA in Cambridge, MA, and switching focus from hepatitis C to long noncoding RNA.

Says Renaud: "I don't sit still for very long." And he's in it for the long haul.

The pioneers in RNA have focused considerable attention on using their technology to turn genes off to fight disease. RaNA, though, has a preclinical effort underway to flip genes' switches on. "The platform itself was very, very unique," says Renaud. Which is one reason why he was attracted to the challenge of running a company still looking at its first IND.

"A big part of what's happened (at RaNA)," says the CEO, "is getting a big, big library of oligonucleotides together." Over the next 12 to 18 months, the company--which has a staff of 25--plans to identify its first clinical-stage candidates and start prepping for human trials. It's possible that an IND could be ready by late next year.

RaNA has been operating with $25 million raised in a Series A announced back in early 2012--after the biotech was initially seeded by Atlas Venture. Atlas brought in SR One, Monsanto and the Partners Innovation Fund on the syndicate, and Renaud says there's money left in the bank to get to the next big turning point. After that, they'll need to raise more cash, with the potential for partners to step in and cover some of the freight of R&D. And he'd clearly like to start challenging the leaders in the field--companies like Alnylam ($ALNY) and Regulus ($RGLS)--in inking some major deals.

"Here, it's about building the company with the right people; partnerships are going to become a critical part of what we do," he adds, particularly considering the wide range of potential clinical programs that could be mounted with this kind of technology.

Renaud takes over from Art Krieg, who left the company to take the CSO's job at Sarepta ($SRPT). Krieg's move, though, was ill-fated. He was fired in the summer as Sarepta continued its roller-coaster ride with a closely watched drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.