Accent Therapeutics

(FierceBiotech)

Accent Therapeutics

CEO: Shakti Narayan
Based: Lexington, Massachusetts
Founded: 2017
Clinical focus: Drugging RNA-modifying proteins to treat cancer

The scoop: Knowledge of RNA-modifying proteins (RMPs) and the role they play in the functioning of healthy and diseased cells has proliferated in recent years, opening new ways to target a wide range of conditions. Accent Therapeutics is part of a small, emerging band of biotechs focused on that new opportunity.

What makes Accent Fierce: Accent is tackling a potentially significant new area of biology with the support of some of the researchers who put it on the map. Chuan He, one of Accent’s co-founders, was behind the discovery of an enzyme that erases RNA methyl modifications. Another co-founder, Howard Chang, shed light on the importance of an enzyme that adds methyl groups to RNA.

He, Chang and other researchers in the nascent field of epitranscriptomics have done more than just help understand healthy human biology; they have also begun to show that when RNA modification goes awry it may drive diseases.

The therapeutic implications of the work led Accent to analyze 250 or so RMPs in search of enzymes that cancer cells need to thrive. Accent has emerged from that search with a list of 20 to 30 novel, high-priority targets that it thinks are involved in a host of oncological diseases.

Accent is trying to drug the targets, notably the five it has selected for its initial pipeline, using small molecules. The choice of modality enables Accent to leverage the long history of drugging enzymes, such as kinases, using small molecules to take some risk out of the inherently risky task of building R&D programs around novel targets.

“We're able to take on much less modality risk by going after small molecule therapeutics, and in turn able to take on more novel target risk because we believe that the way to really have patient impact and create a broad, sustainable pipeline of programs is to go after novel targets,” Accent CEO Shakti Narayan said.

Accent raised a $63 million series B round in April to take forward an internal pipeline led by drugs against METTL3—the enzyme Chang’s group worked on—and ADAR1. Months later, AstraZeneca paid $55 million upfront and committed to up to $1.1 billion in milestones for the chance to secure the rights to up to three programs. Accent retained the option to co-develop and co-commercialize one of the assets in certain territories.

With five programs in its internal pipeline and three covered by the AstraZeneca deal, Accent is still sitting on a cache of untapped targets that it hopes to add to in the future. That could see Accent return to the deal table.

“I could envision us doing additional business development deals because there are multiple novel targets waiting to be advanced into the clinic. We won't be able to advance all of them by ourselves,” Narayan said.

Investors: EcoR1 Capital, GV, AbbVie Ventures, The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, NS Investment, Droia Ventures, Atlas Venture and The Column Group.

Accent Therapeutics