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RNA Therapeutics Company Raises $30M in First Venture Round

Kevin Weeks

Kevin Weeks (Lars Sahl, Univ of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)

13 Nov. 2018. A company spun-off from a university biochemistry lab is raising $30 million to fund discovery of treatments targeting RNA, genetic material instructing protein production in cells. Ribometrix, a 3 year-old enterprise in Durham, North Carolina, is co-founded by University of North Carolina chemistry professor Kevin Weeks in Chapel Hill, on whose research the company’s technology is based.

Weeks’s lab studies the chemical structure of ribonucleic acid, or RNA molecules, the genetic material transcribed from genetic codes in DNA that provide instructions for protein production in cells. The lab’s researchers look particularly at the three-dimensional folding of RNA in cells, bringing together a range of disciplines including organic chemistry, biophysics, bioinformatics, and computational biology. Weeks is a pioneer in organizing and applying this branch of chemistry — known as selective 2?-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension, or SHAPE — that measures the structure and dynamics of RNA in assembling proteins.

Research by Weeks and colleagues shows the 3-D structure of RNA reveals identifiable targets for small molecule, or low molecular weight, chemicals that can harness RNA to create therapies for disease. Weeks and Ribometrix co-founder Katherine Warner describe targeting these RNA pockets in a July 2018 article in the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery (paid subscription required). Weeks and Warner say these binding targets offer a way to address diseases resulting from so-called undruggable proteins, which is the core of Ribometrix’s corporate strategy. Warner is the company’s research director, while Weeks is an adviser and stockholder. Christine Hajdin, Ribometrix’s screening director, is a co-author of the article.

Michael Solomon, also a Ribometrix co-founder and current CEO, says in a company statement, “A huge medical opportunity awaits RNA-targeting small molecules that can be designed in a systematic fashion, analogous to discovery methods currently employed for protein targets.” While Solomon adds that ” we are well positioned to advance a broad pipeline of compelling drug programs,”

Ribometrix has so far not revealed its current product pipeline, although the Dementia Discovery Fund is an early and continuing investor. A story about the company on the university’s web site in March 2018, quotes Weeks and Warner that Huntington’s disease, a fatal genetic disorder, is a condition the company plans to address. In addition, Weeks is on the faculty at the UNC-Chapel Hill medical school’s cancer center.

The company’s first venture funding round is raising $30 million, led by M Ventures, based in Amsterdam and a subsidiary of drug maker Merck, with participation by the venture investment arms of biopharmaceutical company Amgen and genomics technology developer Illumina, as well as venture investor Pappas Capital, all new investors. Also joining the financing round are Ribometrix’s seed-round funders SV Health Investors, AbbVie Ventures, Hatteras Venture Partners, MP Healthcare Venture Management, the Dementia Discovery Fund, and Alexandria Venture Investments. The company’s seed round raised $7.5 million.

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