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WaVe Joins the Crossover Party With $66M Series B for RNA Drugs

Xconomy Boston — 

Another week, another startup biotech that has amassed the type of investor group that can support an initial public offering. This time, it’s Boston-based WaVe Life Sciences.

WaVe, a startup trying to develop so-called “stereopure” RNA drugs, today raised a $66 million Series B round from a group of crossover investors that back both private and public companies. Several of the names in WaVe’s round have participated in other recent crossover-fueled rounds for startup biotechs, like Editas Medicine and Ovid Therapeutics, which both closed their deals last week. WaVe’s new backers are Foresite Capital (which led the funding), Fidelity Management and Research, New Leaf Venture Partners, Redmile Group, Jennison Associates, Cormorant Asset Management, and Clough Capital Partners. WaVe’s existing investors, RA Capital Management and Kagoshima Shinsangyo Sosei Investment, also took part.

WaVe just raised an $18 million Series A in February, and CEO Paul Bolno said at the time that the company had put together a “substantial” amount of cash from founding investor SNBL, a Japan-based CRO, before that (he didn’t specify when or how much). But a syndicate like this has become common in biotech these days, and is often a precursor to an IPO—either in the short-term or down the road. Berkeley Heights, NJ-based Edge Therapeutics, for instance, brought in crossover backers in April and just filed for an IPO last week. Moderna Therapeutics, of Cambridge, MA, on the other hand, raised a $450 million war chest from crossovers in January and deflected the idea of an IPO anytime soon.

The company declined to comment beyond its release this morning.

WaVe is getting the cash to advance RNA drugs that it contends could last longer in the body, and be more safer and more potent than the ones being developed by other, more established companies. Using a proprietary chemistry method, the company has developed a way to control the “chirality”—chemistry’s version of handedness—of the RNA molecules it produces. WaVe’s contention is that chirality is important for RNA drugs, and that ignoring it can lead to less pure, less effective therapies. (You can read more about that argument in this story on WaVe’s Series A in February.)

To test its claim, the company is starting out developing antisense and exon-skipping compounds, the type for which Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) and Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) are known, though Bolno has said WaVe’s method could be applicable for other RNA-based approaches, like RNA interference. WaVe says in its announcement today that it’s developing a group of RNA drugs for rare disorders, among them Huntington’s disease and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It hopes to file papers with the FDA by the end of 2016 to begin its first clinical trial.

“We believe WAVE’s antisense and exon-skipping candidates have the potential to deliver enhanced efficacy and safety for patients across a number of diseases compared to other approved and investigational nucleic acid therapies,” Bolno said in a statement.

WaVe was formed out of the merger of two small companies: Chiralgen of Japan, and Boston’s Ontorii. Its name is an amalgam of the last names of the scientific founders of Chiralgen and Ontorii: Tokyo University of Science professor Takeshi Wada, and Harvard University chemical biologist and Warp Drive Bio founder Greg Verdine.