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Genomics Biotech Raises $40 Million in Venture Funds

DNA strand (NSF)

(James. J. Caras, National Science Foundation)

Moderna Therapeutics, a biotechnology start-up in Cambridge, Massachusetts developing therapies harnessing messenger RNA, secured some $40 million in venture funding. The financing for this round was led by Flagship Ventures that incubated Moderna Therapeutics, and includes other unamed private investors.

The two-year-old company, founded and based on research by scientists at Harvard University and MIT, uses ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules that complement one of the strands in the DNA gene, called messenger RNA. Messenger RNA leaves the cell nucleus and goes to the cell’s cytoplasm, which makes proteins. The ribosome in cells that synthesizes human proteins reads and translates the genetic code in the messenger RNA into the appropriate amino acids for that protein.

Moderna Therapeutics’ technology harnesses messenger RNA to stimulate therapeutic proteins in the body to treat disease, focusing on four disease targets: oncology, inherited genetic disorders, hemophilia, and diabetes. The company says it filed so far 80 patents for the technology, covering some 4,000 claims ranging from RNA engineering to administration and dosing.

The company says it conducted preclinical proof-of-concept studies over the past 18 months that cover tests of oncology-care therapies on lab animals, including primates, with results showing the technology can induce production of dozens of intracellular therapeutic proteins. The tests also show the system can induce those therapeutic proteins through injections or intravenous administration. Moderna Therapeutics says it will publish its findings next year.

Moderna Therapeutics’ academic founders include MIT’s Robert Langer, the holder of some 800 issued and filed patents that have been licensed to more than 250 pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology, and medical device companies. Langer was the subject of a recent New York Times profile on academic innovation.

Derrick Rossi, also a founder of Moderna Therapeutics, is a principal faculty member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and cited by Time magazine in 2010 for his discovery of modified messenger RNA reprogramming as one of the top ten medical breakthroughs that year. Kenneth Chien, a company founder, is a visiting professor at Harvard from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, who conducts research on the molecular pathways of cardiac development and disease. All three researchers serve as scientific advisors to Moderna Therapeutics.

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Hat tip: Fortune/Term Sheet

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