Moderna nails $110M to get mRNA tech into the clinic

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel

Moderna Therapeutics is having quite a year, and the Cambridge, MA, biotech just put a $110 million capstone on 2013, raising a colossal new round and riding high on technology that promises to transform the human body into a drug factory.

The company, a 2013 Fierce 15 member, is keeping quiet about its latest investors and near-term projects, saying only that it now has $340 million in the bank and plans to flesh out its messenger RNA platform and get some candidates into the clinic. Moderna's technology has the potential to spur the production of human proteins or antibodies within patient cells, effectively cutting out the middleman in biologics development and manufacturing therapies in vivo.

Now, just a year removed from stealth mode, the Flagship Ventures-incubated company has a bevy of cash and a fast-growing operation, expected to reach 100 employees by year's end. That puts Moderna in an enviable position, CEO Stéphane Bancel said, and, with no pushy public investors to put pressure on R&D, the company plans to take its time developing the disruptive technology.

"Given the potential of Moderna's technology to transform the treatment of a wide range of diseases, we have made the strategic decision to remain private at this time, even in the face of a favorable public market environment for biotech IPOs," Bancel said in a statement. "The significant support we have received from our investor base and partners will enable us to strike the right balance between urgency and care to build a durable scientific platform and propel the field forward, without the short-term distractions that can sidetrack a young public company from its mission."

Earlier this year, Moderna's preclinical promise was enough to convince AstraZeneca ($AZN) to fork out up to $420 million to get its hands on up to 40 candidates in cardiovascular and kidney diseases and certain cancers for 5 years, and the biotech has said it's cooking up some in-house rare disease and oncology drugs of its own.

Flagship led Moderna's $40 million seed round in late 2012, helping the company get on its feet with technology based on the work of cofounder and Harvard stem cell expert Derrick Rossi. The company fleshed out its C-suite in convincing Bancel to quit his job as chief of the fast-growing French diagnostics outfit bioMérieux and has since nearly quadrupled its staff as it marches toward human trials for its novel technology.

- read the statement

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2013 Fierce 15 - Moderna Therapeutics