Unlocking the cell’s “metabolic gates” to treat disease
CEO: Amir Nashat
President: Joanne Kotz
Clinical focus: Unlocking the potential of metabolite transporters, an underexplored class of membrane proteins
The scoop: Jnana launched at the end of 2017 with $50 million in series A cash and the goal of developing a drug discovery platform targeting membrane proteins known as solute carriers (SLCs). The company is going after the more than 400 proteins in the SLC family, with an initial focus on inflammatory bowel disease and monogenic diseases, which are relatively rare but collectively affect millions of people, according to the WHO.
What makes Jnana fierce: Jnana is working to discover and develop small-molecule drugs against targets that cofounder Stuart Schreiber would say are “just screaming out to be drugged with small molecules.” After all, SLCs transport metabolites, which happen to be small molecules themselves.
The startup isn’t quite in uncharted territory. There are a number of established drugs that target SLCs, ranging from diuretics and antidepressants to gout treatments and SGLT2 inhibitors for diabetes. But approved drugs target just under 20 of the 400-plus SLCs out there, highlighting a “vast canvas” of possibilities, as well as the druggability of these proteins, said Joanne Kotz, president and cofounder of Jnana.
Jnana has preclinical programs for undisclosed monogenic diseases and inflammatory bowel disease—it had to start somewhere, Kotz said—but plans to expand to several other treatment areas.
“You can’t do everything right away, especially in a space where the challenge is prioritizing among the many opportunities,” she said. “The mission of the company is really to build the short- and long-term science, partners and funding necessary to realize the huge medical potential of what we think is here across many different therapeutic areas.
“We have a long-term vision of creating a company that can get multiple medicines to patients at the end of the day. And we’re laying the foundation in terms of the team, the investor syndicates, the culture and how we operate.”
Jnana, which means “knowledge” in Sanskrit, has built a platform for drug discovery and hit generation that’s “really robust and fast,” Kotz said. So, once it has identified targets it wants to advance, it will be able to quickly turn hits into leads and leads into candidates.
“To the extent that I can say, I think we’ve made a huge amount of progress in building a drug discovery platform and so we feel really confident now.”
The startup has 18 full-time staffers and plans to “continue to grow steadily,” aiming to hit about 25 people by the end of the year. The hiring spree will hopefully include bringing on a full-time CEO in the near future, Kotz said. Jnana is currently helmed by Amir Nashat, a partner at seed funder Polaris Partners.
Investors: AbbVie Ventures, Avalon Ventures, Pfizer R&D Innovate, Polaris Partners, Versant Ventures