News, BioPharma

Novel drug-discovery approach lands big backers

UK-based OMass Therapeutics is leaning on a proprietary form of native mass spectrometry to help develop small-molecule drugs for rare diseases.

Major investors are throwing their weight behind a UK-based startup that believes it has come up with a better day to find new drugs.

OMass Therapeutics is advancing a pipeline of drugs discovered using a technique pioneered by company founder Dame Carol Robinson, a chemistry professor at Oxford University. The technique uses a proprietary form of native mass spectrometry to give a clearer picture of how drugs interact with their targets in their native environments.

The company now has funding to advance its pipeline into the clinical stage, OMass CEO Ros Deegan said in an interview, declining to offer a specific timeline. In late April, the company raised $100 million in a Series B round, one of the largest ever for a UK-based small-molecule company. New investors include Sanofi Ventures, Northpond Ventures and GV, formerly known as Google Ventures, as well as existing investors Syncona, Oxford Science Enterprises and Oxford University.

The company has raised about $150 million overall, according to Deegan.

The company’s drug-discovery platform, OdyssION, essentially carves a middle path between other discovery methods. It combines the precision of methods that examine drug targets in isolation with the broader view of the ecosystems where those targets operate. The broader view typically leads to less precision, while the isolation method loses the context, Deegan said. OdyssIOn can do both.

“This is a completely new way of doing drug discovery,” Deegan said.

The company is developing small-molecule therapies that target solute carriers, complex-bound proteins and G-protein coupled receptors, or GCPRs, that play a role in rare diseases and immunological conditions. Other startups targeting GCPRs – Septerna and ShouTi Pharmaceuticals – also have landed recent nine-figure investments.

OMass has five drugs in pre-clinical development. The three furthest ahead are focused on treatments for inflammatory diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a genetic condition that affects between 20,000 and 40,000 people in the U.S. and Europe, according to Deegan.

The inflammatory disease program is targeting a receptor called gasdermin D. The receptor plays a role in a variety of common and rare diseases and OMass could develop a pipeline of small-molecule drugs for different diseases around it alone, Deegan said. The goal for now is better treatment for rare diseases, including inherited periodic fevers such as familial Mediterranean fever, mevalonate kinase deficiency and tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated periodic syndrome.

“Our plan is to commercialize specialty immunology and rare disease programs ourselves, and to partner with others to maximize the opportunities in larger immunology indications and areas in which we are not focused,” Deegan said.

OMass currently employs 40 people and expects to hire more, Deegan added.

The company also has added new board members: Scott Biller, executive venture partner at GV; Diana Bernstein, vice president at Northpond and Laia Crespo, a partner at Sanofi Ventures.

“OMass is fundamentally shifting the process by which we identify and evaluate chemistry for the most challenging drug targets,” Bernstein said in a statement. “Native mass spectrometry uniquely permits simultaneous evaluation of drug binding and functional effect, and OMass is a leader in this pursuit.”

For her contributions to native mass spectrometry and its use in drug discovery, OMass founder Robinson won the 2022 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine and the 2022 Benjamin Franklin Medal for Chemistry.