Dicerna Pharma Gets $25M Boost to Develop Next-Gen Gene Silencing Drugs

8/11/10

Dicerna Pharmaceuticals has replenished its war chest. The Watertown, MA-based developer of gene-silencing drugs has raised $25 million in its Series B round of financing to advance its research. It’s a touchdown for Doug Fambrough, who said he made closing this funding round his first major priority when he took over as the firm’s chief executive in early May.

Domain Associates, Dicerna’s new venture investor, led the second-round financing. Dicerna’s existing backers—Abingworth, Oxford Bioscience Partners, and Skyline Ventures—also took part in the financing round. Since formed in 2007, Dicerna has raised a total of $46.4 million in venture capital. (The firm’s $5 million debt financing in June became part of its Series B round, Fambrough said.) With his firm’s new investment, Domain partner Brian Halak is taking a seat on Dicerna’s board.

The deal is a major plug for Dicerna’s unique approach to RNA interference, which involves silencing specific disease-related genes. The firm uses gene-silencing molecules that are a bit longer than traditional short-interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules under development at company’s such as Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY) and Sirna Therapeutics/Merck in San Francisco. Dicerna’s drugs also interact with an enzyme called dicer, which the firm says acts earlier in the gene-silencing process than typical siRNAs. (Dicerna, which has not yet tested any of its drugs in humans, plans to develop its first drug for an undisclosed target against solid tumors.)

There’s yet another key difference in Dicerna‘s drug molecules that could make them suited to overcome a major problem in RNAi drug research: Delivering the molecules deep into the body. The firms’ dicer drugs have a built-in “linker” piece that can attach to numerous molecules such as antibodies, peptides, and lipid-based particles that can deliver them to cells, where they can pack their gene-silencing punch. In its collaboration with Paris-based biotech firm Ipsen, for example, Dicerna is researching whether it can link its RNAi drugs to Ipsen’s peptide molecules.

“Delivery is the key element of this field,” Fambrough said. “I think one of the reasons that this round came together rather quickly, and we were able to get the interest that we got, is the … Next Page »

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