Investors Take $440M Bet on Circular RNA Therapeutics Company Laronde

Investors Take $440M Bet on Circular RNA Therapeutics Company Laronde
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) chain, 3d illustration.

Circular or “endless” (e) RNA therapeutics startup Laronde has attracted $440M in Series B financing only months after the company was unveiled by lead investor Flagship Pioneering.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that RNA therapeutics have huge possibilities with the success of the mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and BioNTech.

Flagship was the lead investor that helped launch Moderna in 2010 and has now revealed another large bet on the next generation of circular RNA therapeutics, a platform technology developed by its own research team.

Laronde is developing circular eRNA therapeutics that have an advantage over the first generation of RNA medicines in that they are more stable and less likely to cause adverse immune effects.

Circular RNAs are found across many species including humans and are commonly found in the blood and platelets. Their circular nature appears to make them longer lasting and more stable than non-circular mRNAs, but natural circular RNAs are noncoding.

Laronde has found a method to introduce single or multiple protein coding sequence into these RNAs and program them to engage with ribosomes in cells to make the target proteins. In animal studies comparing circular with non-circular RNAs the eRNA produced the target protein for weeks as opposed to only 3–4 days using engineered non-circular RNA.

Flagship is a venture capital investment firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which was founded in 2000 and has invested over $2.3 billion in life science startups since then. It has an unusual approach both investing in biotech startups and building them from the ground up via its Flagship Labs research team.

Laronde was launched in 2017 and its eRNA technology was developed at Flagship Labs. The startup came out of stealth mode in May this year following four years of initial research with a $50M Series A “launch.” It is headed up by Diego Miralles, CEO of Laronde and CEO-Partner at Flagship Pioneering.

The huge new investment round, coming just a few months after its Series A launch, included external investment from funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Invus, Canada Pension Plan Investment, Fidelity Management & Research Company, and Federated Hermes Kaufmann Funds, as well as others.

Laronde is still at a very early stage and has yet to announce an official pipeline and therapy areas, but is likely benefiting from the current investor interest in RNA therapies and Flagship’s earlier Moderna success story. The large investment will allow the company to move quickly through the first steps to therapy development.

“Endless RNA represents a whole new approach to making medicines and treating disease,” said Miralles, in a press statement. “Laronde is creating a new class of drugs that can be programmed to persistently express proteins in the body, is redosable, and can be administered through simple delivery mechanisms, resulting in highly tunable protein levels. The therapeutic possibilities enabled by eRNA are vast with the potential to greatly improve global human health.”

Laronde is not the only company to recognize the potential of circular RNA for therapeutic purposes. Orna Therapeutics and Chimerna Therapeutics, both also U.S.-based and founded over the last couple of years, are also working in this space, albeit with lower levels of funding to date.