Atlas Startup, Rodin, Hopes to Rewire Neurons to Improve Memory

8/12/13Follow @benthefidler

Epigenetics isn’t new. But so far, the growing scientific understanding of gene regulation has largely been used to make cancer drugs. What if you could use the same concept to reprogram neurons to combat neurological disorders? This is the plan that Atlas Venture has shaped for its new startup, Rodin Therapeutics.

Named after Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor who fashioned “The Thinker,” Cambridge, MA-based Rodin is built on the idea of converging the concepts of epigenetics—the idea of switching genes on or off without altering the underlying DNA—with neurology. The company was founded earlier this summer with the help of an unspecified amount of seed funding from Atlas, Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., and Germany-based Proteros Biostructures. It was also one of the two first startup investments announced by Johnson & Johnson when it opened the Boston Innovation Center on June 27.

“The vision here is to be a real leader in the field of epigenetics and neurology,” says Bruce Booth, Rodin’s acting CEO and a partner at Atlas.

Bruce Booth of Atlas Venture

Bruce Booth of Atlas Venture, acting CEO of Rodin

Booth says he’s been intently following that field since mid-2007, when published research in the area really began heating up, and has tried to start a company in the framework of Rodin “multiple times” since then. The challenge, however, has been finding a way to make a drug that only hits specific enzymes in the epigenetic process, rather than several at a time, which can lead to side effects.

“In cancer you can accept a higher side effect profile than you can in other areas,” he says. “But in the field of neurology and in frail Alzheimer’s patients, or post-traumatic stress disorder patients, you really need a significant safety margin so you’re able to get an effective dose that is clean of adverse side effects and can be used chronically.”

Booth concluded that the field wasn’t ready for a Rodin in 2008 or even 2010. But recently, after looking through a number of different approaches, Atlas began a partnership with Proteros, a company with expertise in structural biology that has collaborations with more than 80 biotech and agricultural companies. Booth says Proteros’ discovery platform has allowed Atlas to identify, at the very least, “a path” towards achieving its goal of developing epigenetic drugs with the specificity it needs.

So Atlas and Proteros joined together to create Rodin in a way that represents both a financial and strategic partnership.

While Atlas is the largest equity holder and Proteros is also a “core” stockholder, Booth says that a project team that includes Proteros scientists is “part of the fabric” of Rodin. Initially, the core wet lab work will be done at Proteros before new drug candidates are ready to be tested somewhere else, according to Booth. Ultimately, Rodin will get exclusive rights to the drugs that come out of that work.

Booth is the company’s acting CEO, but chief scientific officer Martin Jefson, Pfizer’s former head of Neuroscience Research, and chief business officer Ankit Mahadevia, a former Genentech executive and an Atlas venture partner, are really running the company on a day-to-day basis, he says.

Then there’s J&J. The pharma conglomerate made an equity investment in Rodin in June as part of the opening of its Boston Innovation Center, which is meant to … Next Page »

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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  • Truth Williams

    “…chief business officer Ankit Mahadevia, a former Genentech executive and an Atlas venture partner, are really running the company…”

    Being an intern in the BD group at GNE = executive?