MiRagen Lands $41M for MicroRNA Drugs in Cancer, Fibrosis

MiRagen Therapeutics is now ready to move into clinical development, backed by a $41 million financing round that will support trials of a pair of drug candidates for fibrosis and hematological cancers. MRL Ventures and JAFCO led the Series C investment for the Boulder, CO-based company.

MiRagen has developed therapies that use microRNAs—single-stranded RNA molecules that regulate gene expression. The company says these molecules are thought to impact biological processes that affect diseases such as fibrosis or cardiovascular disease. Certain microRNAs can impact something functions like the regulation of cells in blood, while others may regulate processes such as blood vessel growth.

MiRagen plans to use the funding for the clinical development of a candidate, MRG-106, for cancers that affect blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes, such as leukemias and lymphomas. MiRagen believes its candidate can cause a specific microRNA—one that impacts blood and lymph cells that MiRagen labels as “155”—to reduce a type of cell proliferation that is characteristic of cancerous cells.

The company plans to use the funding for a second candidate, MRG-201, which the company believes may be able to use a microRNA molecule, which MiRagen labels as “29,” to correct some of the drivers of pathological fibrosis, or scarring to organ tissue.

Two other new investors, Brace Pharma Capital and MP Healthcare Venture Management, joined in the Series C preferred stock funding, alongside existing investors Atlas Venture, Boulder Ventures, Remeditex Ventures, Amgen Ventures and others. Lead investor MRL Ventures is a venture fund of Merck (NYSE: MRK).

The funding gives MiRagen a boost after years in preclinical research that had yet to advance any compounds into human testing. It has largely subsisted on $28 million in previous venture funding, as well as a licensing agreement with French pharmaceutical company Servier that included $45 million upfront and as much as $352 million in potential milestones (along with royalty payments, too). Last year, the companies extended the partnership through 2016.

The deal targeted two treatments, including one for heart failure and another for preventing the death of heart tissue and stimulating the formation of new heart muscle cells. Both therapies are still in preclinical development.

Xconomy wrote about MiRagen’s initial development in 2008, when the business was just about a year old and received an $8 million Series A round from Atlas Venture and Boulder Ventures. It announced a $20 million Series B round in 2012.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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