Pharma

With $20M and 15 preclinical candidates, Moderna launches spinoff for mRNA-based cancer drugs

With a $110 million financing round and big-time deals with AstraZeneca and Alexion Pharmaceuticals in the bag, biotech company Moderna Therapeutics‘ next big move is to spin its pipeline of cancer drug candidates into a new, separate venture. Moderna said today it’s committing $20 million to the new company, Onkaido Therapeutics. Leveraging Moderna’s mRNA Therapeutics […]

With a $110 million financing round and big-time deals with AstraZeneca and Alexion Pharmaceuticals in the bag, biotech company Moderna Therapeutics‘ next big move is to spin its pipeline of cancer drug candidates into a new, separate venture.

Moderna said today it’s committing $20 million to the new company, Onkaido Therapeutics. Leveraging Moderna’s mRNA Therapeutics platform, Onkaido will develop potential new cancer treatments aimed at targets not addressed through current approaches, the company said. Initially, it will focus on 15 preclinical drug candidates from Moderna.

“Moderna Therapeutics focuses on developing and commercializing the world’s best mRNA technology platform. This goal is independent of developing best-in-class treatments,” said Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s SVP of corporate development and the founding CEO of Onkaido Therapeutics. “Onkaido was launched to enable a team to focus solely on the development of mRNA oncology drugs.”

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A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

Moderna’s approach employs messenger RNA, which acts as a blueprint for protein production in cell cytoplasm, to enable the body to make its own healing proteins. Last year, AstraZeneca paid $240 million up front for access to 40 drug candidates based on the technology, and Alexion Pharmaceuticals just announced a $25 million investment and $100 million drug development deal with Moderna.

Although mRNA-based therapies are a new modality of treatment, there are a few other companies working in this space. Germany-based Ethris, for example, is developing modified mRNAs as drugs, and CureVac is developing mRNA vaccines (including a flu vaccine partnership with Janssen).

Cambridge-based Moderna was founded in late 2010 by Flagship VentureLabs.

[Image credit: Moderna Therapeutics]