Pfizer, Merck and J&J back UK startup mining the dark genome for autoimmune therapies
Published: Oct 19, 2022
By Alex Keown
Backed by Pfizer, Merck KGaA and J&J, Nucleome Therapeutics secured £37.5 million (about $42.16 million) in an oversubscribed Series A financing round to mine the dark genome for precision medicines for autoimmune diseases.
The financing, announced Wednesday, will allow U.K.-based Nucleome, an Oxford University spinout, to decode the dark matter of the human genome in order to develop novel therapeutic approaches. Using its drug discovery platform technology, Nucleome aims to identify direct genetic links to disease-associated genes.
The so-called dark regions of the genome are areas that traditional high-throughput, short-read sequencing technologies are unable to examine, which prevents researchers from identifying mutations that could be relevant within these areas. Nucleome suggested the dark regions of the genome contain 90% of disease-associated genetic changes.
The dark genome plays a regulatory role in the body by controlling gene expression, Nucleome notes on its website. The dark genome “acts like an instruction processor” by turning genes on and off at the right time. There are multiple disease-linked genetic changes found in the dark genome, including for multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
By decoding the dark genome, Nucleome aims to unlock which variants regulate gene expressions and in what manner, either positively or negatively. Understanding this will improve drug discovery and development, the company noted.
Nucleome’s platform harnesses the capabilities of 3D genome technology and machine learning. The technology reportedly enables the direct linking of genes to diseases and allows for the precise mapping of pathways that can boost drug discovery capabilities.
Nucleome has already made progress through the mapping of genes to genetics in multiple immune cell types, according to CEO and Co-founder Danuta Jeziorska. This has led to the discovery of the first wave of potential first-in-class autoimmune disease targets, Jeziorska said in a brief statement.
The company is applying its technology across multiple cell types, including lymphocytes with an initial focus on autoimmune diseases. Nucleome plans to develop a robust pipeline of drug candidates along with corresponding disease biomarkers in areas of unmet need, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and RA.
The Series A financing was led by M Ventures, the investment arm of Germany’s Merck KGaA. It was also supported by Johnson and Johnson Innovation-JJDC, Inc., Pfizer Ventures, British Patient Capital and founding investor Oxford Science Enterprises.
According to Jeziorska, the support from high-caliber investment groups validates the importance of Nucleome’s platform and the potential of its drug discovery capabilities.