Biotech incubator Flagship has initially committed $50m to support the platform’s initial pipeline of new medicines, and expects to hire more than 200 people over the next two years.
Flagship also founded mRNA company Moderna in 2010. It now sets out a ‘bold vision’ for Laronde: aiming for 100 new eRNA medicines over the next 10 years. The new tech’s promise is in its programmable nature, with a wide range of possible applications.
Circular, closed-loop RNA
The tech has been invented by a Flagship team led by Avak Kahvejian, Ph.D., Laronde co-founder, and Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D. co-founder and Chairman of Laronde; Diego Miralles, M.D., is Flagship Pioneering CEO-Partner and Chief Executive Officer of Laronde.
Starting work as ‘FL50’ (Flagship’s 50th life science platform) in 2017, the program initially explored the therapeutic ability of long non-coding RNA (IncRNA) – which is naturally abundant in circular form.
Unlike mRNA, natural circular IncRNA does not readily interact with ribosomes.
This led to the invention of eRNA, a proprietary closed-loop RNA construct engineered to be translatable.
“The therapeutic protein expression capabilities of eRNA are modular and programmable. Switching the eRNA "protein-coding cassette" directs the body to make different peptides, enzymes, antibodies, channels, and receptors, both inside and outside of the cell,” explains the company.
One of the attractions of eRNA is that it is highly stable, enabling a prolonged therapeutic effect, and its advantages include flexibility in formation and delivery, allowing for repeat dosing. The technology also promises to be easily scalable, according to its founders.
“eRNA therapeutics have the potential to be an essential and widespread class of medicines, expanding beyond small molecules and antibodies in their therapeutic applicability and utility,” said Dr. Kahvejian. “We can program eRNA medicines to code for a wide variety of therapeutic modalities.
"We asked: 'What if the circular nature of certain lncRNAs makes them ultra-stable in the body? Could we benefit from that stability to make a new class of therapeutic by making an RNA that has no free ends, but is translatable?' These insights led to our inventing and optimizing eRNA, to demonstrate its ability to generate prolonged protein expression in vitro and eventually in vivo, and to establishing a strong foundational IP estate around this new class of medicine."
To support the development and launch of multiple eRNA-based medicines, Laronde plans to build a modular and scalable eRNA Gigabase Factory to accommodate the clinical and commercial manufacture of up to 100 products and drug programs in the next 10 years. The company expects to hire more than 200 people over the next two years to support the advancement of its programs and platform.