3d illustration of a part of an RNA chain to illustrate new RNA therapeutics
Credit: Christoph Burgstedt /Getty Images

Orbital Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based RNA medicines startup, has launched with a view to developing new RNA therapeutics not including those based on RNA interference (i).

The initial funding for Orbital is led by Arch Venture Partners and a16z Bio + Health and Newpath Partners have also contributed funds.

The new biotech has an impressive array of founders including Alnylam founder John Maraganore, now chairman of Orbital’s board of directors. Alnylam were first to get an RNA therapeutic on the market in 2018 with the hereditary transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis targeting RNAi therapeutic Onpattro (patisiran) and have had several others approved since then.

As well as high-level scientists from Stanford University, Howard Chang and Ravi Majeti; the University of Pennsylvania, Drew Weissman; and UC San Diego, Gene Yeo; Orbital also has Giuseppe Ciaramella, president and CSO of base editing biotech Beam Therapeutics, on its founder list.

Ciaramella has RNA therapeutics experience from working at Moderna in the early days and was instrumental in developing the company’s successful mRNA vaccine platform before moving to Beam. Notably he will remain in place at Beam as CSO and president, while also serving as interim CEO at Orbital.

The two companies will work closely together to develop the new Orbital RNA therapeutic platform. A license and research collaboration will allow access to the RNA and non-viral delivery technology developed by both companies including Beam’s single base editing technology and circular RNA and virus-like particle technology that Orbit hopes to develop.

More specifically, the partnership deal allows Orbital exclusive access to Beam’s technology for vaccine and protein replacement therapies, and Beam will have exclusive access to Orbital’s technology for gene editing and conditioning for transplants. All other areas are non-exclusive.

It is early days, but Orbital has specifically said it will not develop RNAi therapeutics, perhaps due to Maraganore’s involvement.

Instead, it says it will develop “a first-in-kind RNA platform that integrates both established and emerging technologies and delivery mechanisms.” It plans to extend the half-life of RNA therapeutics and also aims to target more cell and tissue types than currently available therapies.

Therapy areas the company will aim for include: vaccines, immunomodulation, protein replacement and regenerative medicines.

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