Accelerator Bankrolls New Company, Mirina, To Develop MicroRNA-Blocking Drugs
Accelerator’s latest big idea is coming in a micro-sized package. The Seattle-based biotech startup machine, affiliated with Leroy Hood’s Institute for Systems Biology, has formed a new company called Mirina to develop so-called microRNA drugs.
The new company is backed by the usual crew of investors in Accelerator, namely Alexandria Real Estate Equities (NYSE: ARE), Amgen Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, OVP Venture Partners, and WRF Capital. The technology comes in an exclusive license from a company strictly focused on diagnostics, San Diego-based Nanogen (NASDAQ: NGEN). Nanogen will keep an equity stake in Mirina representing “less than 20 percent,” of the company’s shares, and stands to receive milestone payments and royalties on sales if Mirina achieves certain goals in the future, says David Schubert, Accelerator’s chief business officer.
The exact dollar amount being funneled into Mirina isn’t being disclosed, yet it is within the $1.6 million to $5 million range Accelerator typically invests in startup companies, says Accelerator president (and Xconomist) Carl Weissman. Research and development at the company will be run by David McElligott, a 10-year veteran of drug discovery at Bothell, WA-based Icos. McElligott was brought in because of his connection to a pair of former colleagues at Icos—Merl Hoekstra, who went on to be a vice president of business development at Nanogen, and Patrick Gray, now Accelerator’s executive scientific director.
“We’re very excited about this, but we don’t do anything unless we’re really excited about it,” Schubert says.
A little science is required to get a feel for what’s special here. MicroRNAs are tiny molecules discovered in recent years to have potential to control networks of genes. Nanogen’s Minor Groove Binder technology, already used in commercial diagnostics, is thought to have potential here. The Nanogen technique should make drugs that have enhanced binding properties with specific strands of DNA or RNA, which could make them more selective for targets … Next Page »