When we talk about tech sectors that are currently defying all odds in the way things are done traditionally, the biotechnological ecosystem easily comes to mind. From developing Covid-19 vaccines in a record time to a recent research breakthrough that led to the invention of gold nanoparticles that will improve how changes in the body of patients can be closely monitored, the sector has outdone itself. But they are not stopping there. Biotech startups such as Laronde are revolutionizing the industry with their ambitions.
Biotech Startup Laronde Announces A Massive 10-Year Plan
This month, Laronde announced its goal of developing 100 medicines in 10 years. The CEO of the new startup, Diego Miralles, envisions that Laronde will use the eRNA and make it into the most applicable therapeutic platform that has ever existed just as Tesla revolutionized the car industry with its electric battery car models. Flagship Pioneering, one of the founders of Moderna Therapeutics launched Laronde to champion the creation of the novel RNA which is different from the mRNA.
Being circular in shape, Endless RiboNucleic Acid genome (eRNA) has multiple advantages over Messenger RiboNucleic Acid genome (mRNA) that was the candidate behind the successful Covid-19 vaccines. eRNA would be resistant to exonucleases and enzymes that attack the ends of the mRNA and chop it off due to its linear nature. The team of researchers further enhanced the eRNA by adding a code known as the internal ribosome entry site which allows it to attract ribosomes, a feature which the mRNA did not possess.
Before now, there has been medical research describing the eRNA in the cells of mammals. eRNA genome was detected in clinical science in 2010 through RNA sequencing but experts say that much of its functional capabilities in medical application remain a mystery. These circular RNAs were initially discovered as long non-coding RNAs and did not seem to have instructions for making proteins.
Discovery By Kahvejian Gives Way For eRNA Cousin Of mRNA
The ingenious discovery by Avak Kahvejian gave way to plans for an eRNA cousin of mRNA at Laronde in 2017. Mr. Kahvejian, the co-founder of Laronde and Flagship Pioneering executive partner, said that the research formed part of his thesis work. He led the team of researchers at the lab working on circular RNA. Initially, the team worked on the therapeutic application of long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) which does not readily interact with ribosomes.
Laronde’s eRNA is a novel synthetically constructed circular genome that has been engineered to be translatable with no ends. Since they have no ends like the mRNA, eRNA are highly stable and are not recognized by the inbuilt immune system which allows for a long-lasting therapeutic effect. The protein expression capabilities of eRNA are programmable, persistent, reducible, and contain a lot of benefits that previous treatment modalities did not have.
So far, the eRNA genome has not been used in human treatment or medicines but that may be changing soon with Laronde’s vision. Research at large shows its importance in regulating other genes but not as permanent as gene editing. Its application in the development of medicines includes areas like endocrinology, neurology, auto-immune diseases, cancer, pulmonary diseases, and diseases that attack the muscles. The circular RNA can also be used in peptides, proteins, antibodies, vaccines, and even in a better fashion than existing ones.
Laronde Plans To Tackle Multiple Problems With eRNA-Enabled Medicines
Laronde is hoping to tackle multiple therapeutic problems and diseases through the development of eRNA-enabled medicines. To accomplish the bold vision of 100 medicines within a decade, Flagship Pioneering raised $50 million in seed funding for the daughter company. Some of its dreams include building a giant factory that will allow the research and production of various therapeutics.
“We have envisioned that both at the pre-clinical and clinical levels, we can build this infrastructure that will have scale-out capabilities so that we can process many eRNAs at once and scale-up capabilities in making a lot of eRNA for clinical use’” says Mr. Kahvejian.
Although this seems like a daunting task, Mr. Miralles is positive that it is possible. “But now we have two mRNA vaccines designed, tested, approved, and administered to hundreds of millions of people in less than 18 months. So it is clear that we are entering a different world of programmable medicines,” he says. Given the current achievement of the sister company Moderna Therapeutics and BioNTech in developing the mRNA candidates for the Covid-19 vaccine, Mr Miralles says that it would have seemed impossible to have such plans before now.