Startup debuts with plan to map gene signaling pathways for new targets

mountain top peak (pixabay / simon)
The startup CAMP4 Therapeutics, named for the last camp before the push to the summit of Mt. Everest, aims to give big pharma a leg up in drug discovery. (Pixabay)

A new bioinformatics startup, CAMP4 Therapeutics, is coming out of stealth mode with $30 million in funding, new senior hires and a mission: to decode and plot out the signaling pathways that govern the expression of genes linked to various diseases.

It hopes to foster cheaper, faster and more comprehensive discovery of therapeutic molecules and druggable targets, and to make the overall endeavor less risky, through a series of high-resolution, four-dimensional maps that can change over time. By charting out the body’s complex, hierarchical signaling rules and the control codes central to disease pathology, pharmaceutical companies may be able to get closer to their goals.

“Our view is that every disease is a mountain,” CAMP4 CEO Josh Mandel-Brehm told FierceMedTech, “‘Camp four’ is the last camp you get to before the top of Everest or K2, and we think the idea behind the platform is you could start every disease journey already at camp four, and basically be that much closer to getting to the summit.”

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The company’s platform is based on the work of its founders: MIT’s Richard Young, whose lab at the Whitehead Institute explores gene regulation circuitry, and Leonard Zon, of Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital, who has studied epigenetic regulators of cancer.

Young found that DNA is organized into gene loops, which he describes as “insulated neighborhoods,” Mandel-Brehm said. For example, if all the houses in a particular neighborhood used the same key, then anybody could enter any house at will.

“It would be pure chaos. Our genome is like that, too.” he said. “That organization of genes matters, because it’s how the cell helps orchestrate the chaos.”

CAMP4’s platform decodes the physical structures used to unlock and turn on or off the expression of individual genes that can cause a disease. By learning the construction of the key itself, a new drug could affect the regulation of a gene without approaching traditionally more difficult targets, such as DNA editing or transcription factors, Mandel-Brehm said.

“And if you understand that code, that circuitry for any particular gene, you can actually take that application across any gene and any cell type,” he said. And exploring the other genes grouped in a neighborhood of interest can, in turn, lead to more connections. “We found many different correlations between genes and pathways that people have never even thought about.”

CAMP4 started by mapping out pathways in the liver and its associated diseases. With its new round of series A funding, it hopes to scale up its computational platform to cover other areas, such as immunology and T cells, or central nervous system diseases.

The financing round was led by the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, along with The Kraft Group and Polaris Partners, which initially seeded the company. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, CAMP4 currently has 18 employees, including recent additions of senior scientists.

Teva Pharmaceuticals’ Iris Grossman joined CAMP4 earlier this year as chief scientific officer. She led Teva’s early stage clinical development unit, and helped build the company’s personalized medicine strategy.

Asher Schachter was brought on as senior VP for translational medicine, after working as a medical lead in nephrology and hematology programs in the New Indication Discovery Unit at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.

And last year, David Bumcrot joined as VP and head of biology, following multiple years apiece at Curis, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, the Koch Institute at MIT and Editas Medicine.

“Since forming the company in 2016, we have seen the incredible impact of CAMP4’s 4-D gene circuitry platform in generating insights into many currently unaddressed diseases,” said Amir Nashat, a partner at Polaris. “CAMP4’s technology has the potential to make a step change in both time and dollars required to discover new treatments for the sickest patients.”