By Mark Terry


Jnana Therapeutics launched with a $50 million Series A financing yesterday. Seed funders Polaris Partners and Avalon Ventures were joined in the round by Versant Ventures, AbbVie Ventures and Pfizer R&D Innovate.

The company’s name is the Sanskrit word for “knowledge” and according to the company website, it is pronounced jə’nänə. Jnana Therapeutics’ focus is on developing drugs that target the solute carrier (SLC) family of transporters. SLC transporters are referred to as the cell’s metabolic gates, meaning they control the movement of molecules in and out of cells and organelles. Because metabolite balance is often abnormal in disease, the company believes that drugs that target SLC transporters will be effective for a number of different illnesses.

There are already several SLCs that are targeted for some drugs, such as the antidepressant selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, there are more than 400 SLC transporters, leaving a broad range of therapeutic targets to study. Jnane plans to focus on immunometabolism, lysosomal functions and mucosal defense, which are implicated in immuno-oncology, inflammatory disorders, and neurological diseases.

“SLC transporters provide cells with knowledge about their environment,” says Amir Nashat, the chief executive officer of Jnana and managing partner at Polaris Partners, in a statement. “These proteins are amongst the oldest in biology, and afford avenues to address virtually all major diseases. After 50 years of drug development, only a handful of SLCs have been harnessed to treat disease, leaving over 400 members unstudied. Our proprietary chemistry and biology platform allows us to systematically advance medicines based on the biology of these ancient information gathering system. We are targeting a broad range of medical conditions with significant unmet need, and we are fortunate to have the support of leaders in medicine and biotechnology.”

The company was founded by: Stuart Schreiber, Morris Loeb Professor at Harvard University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and cofounder of Broad Institute, as well as biotech companies Vertex, Ariad and H3 Biomedicine.Ramnik Xavier, chief of Gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital, professor at Harvard Medical School and Institute Member at Broad Institute; Joanne Kotz, president at Jnana, previously director at Broad Institute; and Joel Barrish, chief scientific officer at Jnana, and former vice president and head of Discovery Chemistry at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Joining Nashat on the board of directors will be Kevin Kinsella, founder of Avalon Ventures, and Carlo Rizzuto, a partner at Versant.

Scheiber’s academic research has included the discoveries of mTOR, histone deacetylases and data that shows chromatin marks regulate gene expression. He is the winner of the Wolf Prize in Chemistry.

Xavier is also the director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). As both a clinical gastroenterologist and molecular biologist, his research has focused on the molecular mechanisms involved in innate and adaptive immunity in addition to the genetic variations linked to Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and autoimmunity. His laboratory works to define the mechanisms that control inflammation and immunity.


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