RNAi-Focused Atalanta Therapeutics Launches to Address CNS Diseases
RNAi-focused Atalanta Therapeutics launched with $110 million in combined Series A funding and collaboration deals with Genentech and Biogen to address diseases related to the central nervous system, including Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Atalanta, which is based in Boston, is developing RNAi drugs using a new type of molecular architecture, called branched siRNA. The company believes this approach has the potential to overcome one of the biggest challenges for this class of medicines, which is the way it is distributed in the brain and spinal cord. Solving the problem of CNS distribution could open entirely new diseases to RNAi treatment. Branched siRNA is a novel oligonucleotide architecture that has shown potent ability to silence gene expression in the central nervous system (CNS) and can be applied across multiple neurodegenerative diseases, the company said. Preclincial research has shown that branched siRNA can achieve what Atalanta called “unparalleled distribution in the CNS,” which includes deep brain structures and prolonged duration of effect.
Alicia Secor, president and chief executive officer of Atalanta, who most recently helmed Juniper Pharmaceuticals, said the launch of the company is the beginning of a “hopeful new era for treating neurodegenerative diseases that to date have had few or no existing treatments.” There is an urgent need for improved therapies in this space, she added.
“Atalanta’s branched siRNA platform offers the promise to potentially leverage RNAi approaches within the central nervous system, opening a whole new class of diseases to RNAi intervention. We’re eager to deploy this exciting technology with the end goal of delivering effective new therapies to patients,” Secor said in a statement.
Atalanta emerges from stealth mode with collaborative agreements with two of the biggest companies in the pharmaceutical industry, Genentech and Biogen. The collaboration with Genentech includes the development of RNAi therapeutics for multiple CNS targets for neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Atalanta will be eligible to receive development and milestone payments on these programs as well as royalty payments on any resulting products. The Biogen deal will see Atalanta develop RNAi therapeutics for multiple targets, including HTT for the treatment of Huntington’s disease, as well as additional unnamed CNS targets. Atalanta will be eligible to receive development and milestone payments on these programs as well as royalty payments on any resulting products.
The technology at the heart of Atalanta’s program was licensed from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the home of three of the company’s founders. Founding scientists include Anastasia Khvorova, a professor in the RNA Therapeutics Institute with more than 20 years of experience developing oligonucleotide technology and therapeutics; Craig Mello, the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, a co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of RNA interference; and Neil Aronin, professor of medicine and RNA therapeutics and a leader in research into Huntington’s disease.
In addition to Secor at the helm, Atalanta’s executive team includes Chief Scientific Officer Aimee L. Jackson, who has worked in the field of RNA interference and oligonucleotide therapeutics for 18 years, most recently serving as vice president of research for miRagen Therapeutics. Greg Miller, the company’s chief business officer, joins Atalanta from Visterra.
The Series A financing round was backed exclusively by F-Prime Capital.