Chroma Medicine, a new Cambridge, Massachusetts startup, came out of stealth mode and officially launched this week with $125M in Series A financing to develop the therapeutic potential of epigenetic editing.
The company has a team of well-known and experienced scientific founders including Beam Therapeutics founder and Broad Institute professor David Liu, Luke Gilbert, Keith Joung, Jonathan Weissman from the U.S. and Angelo Lombardo and Luigi Naldini from the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy in Milan.
Chroma CEO Catherine Stehman-Breen also has deep experience, previously working as chief medical officer at Sarepta Therapeutics, chief R&D officer at Obsidian Therapeutics and VP of global development at both Regeneron and Amgen.
Epigenetics is now known to control expression patterns of all genes using methyl groups which trigger structural changes to the chromatin, allowing genes to be transcribed into proteins or ‘switched off’ by blocking access to the sequence.
Chroma believes it can develop epigenetic editing technology that can turn genes on and off, or alter the expression of a group of genes. If successful, this technology could be used to treat diseases where gene expression is faulty.
“Epigenetic editing provides fundamental mechanistic advantages over other genomic medicine approaches,” said Vic Myer, Chief Scientific Officer and President of Chroma, who was previously Chief Technology Officer of Editas Medicine, which has a focus on CRISPR-based gene editing.
“First, by mimicking cells’ existing mechanism for regulating gene expression, it enables complete control of the target without activating unpredictable DNA repair pathways. Second, epigenetic editing opens the possibility of pursuing targets in the genome that are difficult to access with other therapeutic approaches, offering hope to patients suffering from serious illnesses.”
The two Italian scientific founders of the company were also founders of Epsilen Bio, an Italian startup seed-funded by European life science VC Sofinnova Partners. Epsilen focused on developing targeted epigenetic silencing genetic therapies. Chroma has recently acquired Epsilen and will be continuing to develop the technology pioneered at Epsilen and the San Raffaele Telethon Institute.
Funding for Chroma’s launch and Series A comes from a range of U.S. and international investors. Atlas Venture, Newpath Partners and Sofinnova provided seed funding. The Series A was led by Cormorant Asset Management and also contributed to by Casdin Capital, Janus Henderson Investors, Omega Funds, funds and accounts of T. Rowe Price Associates, and Wellington Management, as well the original seed investors.
“Chroma is building a next-generation technology platform of epigenetic editing tools,” said Bihua Chen, CEO and Portfolio Manager at Cormorant Asset Management. “This novel approach has the potential to address not only monogenic disease, but also complex diseases involving multiple genes that have long been out of reach of genomic editing. We believe the company is well-positioned to realize the potential of this exciting new technology.”
Following the launch and financing, Chroma now has funds to try and take its technology to the clinic. No disease areas of focus have yet been disclosed by the company, which will focus on preclinical work for the time being.