By Mark Terry
Foghorn Therapeutics, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was founded in 2016, but officially launched with a $50 million investment from Flagship Pioneering and associated investors.
The company is founded on the work of Cigall Kadoch, a researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, and the Broad Institute. She is joined by Douglas Cole, of Flagship, and Gerald Crabtree, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Stanford University.
Kadoch, 32, heads a 24-person laboratory at Dana Farber that focuses on chromatin, which can be described as the packaging materials around DNA. In 2014, Kadoch was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30, and has also acted as a judge for the list.
Cole told Forbes, “I really hadn’t heard anything quite like this before. It struck me that it represented a really new way of thinking about what causes disease in a cell and opened up new ways to think about how to treat serious diseases like cancer.”
Matthew Herper, with Forbes, writes, “What Kadoch learned was that the chromatin packaging was itself controlled by genes (not that surprising) and that a form of pediatric cancer, synovial sarcoma, was caused by changes in a complex of proteins that regulated chromatin (that was a surprise). An even bigger surprise: changes in that regulatory system of cells appear to be involved in at least 20 other cancers, including common ones like non-small cell lung cancer, and in other ailments, including degenerative diseases of the brain. ‘What’s been surprising is watching the potential of the discoveries grow,’ says Kadoch.”
Since its founding in 2016, the company has developed a technology platform and created six programs, as well as a discovery engine to produce additional targets. The platform is dubbed Gene Traffic Control, which is also how it describes the body’s chromatin regulatory system. Problems with the Gene Traffic Control system appear to be a to-now unexplored cause of cancer and other diseases, and the company’s Gene Traffic Control product platform provides insight into that process.
The company’s chief executive officer is Adrian Gottschalk, who formerly headed neurodegeneration research at Biogen. Its scientific advisors include Charles Sawyers, who helped develop cancer drugs Gleevec and Xtandi, David Schenkein, chief executive officer of Agios Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Gerald Crabtree.
The company will initially focus on synovial sarcoma, as well as prostate cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. The chromatin process has possible applications in autism, schizophrenia and some rare neurological diseases. Human clinical trials are at least a year or more away.
The company was developed and launched through Flagship’s innovation foundry, Flagship VentureLabs.
“Genes determine critical aspects of health and disease,” Cole said in a statement. He is a managing partner at Flagship Pioneering and chairman of Foghorn’s board of directors. “Cells rely on the chromatin regulatory system to direct which genes are expressed and when, where, and in what order they are expressed. The chromatin regulatory system represents a pivotal, unexploited area on which to build effective new therapeutic strategies. Foghorn Therapeutics has been founded and is uniquely positioned to do this.”