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- The venture-backed biotech Omega Therapeutics has raised $85 million, aiming to advance its novel genetic medicine idea into human testing, the company said Wednesday.
- Omega is aiming to create a rival technology to gene therapy and gene editing approaches. Its research specializes in a field called epigenetics, aiming to restore genes without modifying DNA.
- Flagship Pioneering, a venture-capital and incubating giant in the biotech industry, founded Omega in 2017.
- Omega is Flagship’s latest big bet on genetic medicine in 2020. The firm also participated in a $700 million financing for Sana Biotechnology and the $50 million launch of Tessera Therapeutics.
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Flagship Pioneering has had a bustling 2020.
While most of the economy has suffered under the coronavirus pandemic, biotech is booming. It’s kept Flagship, a top biotech incubator and VC firm, betting aggressively on next-generation medical ideas.
Flagship vaulted into public prominence this year from Moderna, one of its companies, which has become a frontrunner in the race for a coronavirus vaccine. At the same time, Flagship has laid the groundwork for the next big biotech, closing a $1.1 billion fund in late-March to launch and fund more companies.
On Wednesday, Omega Therapeutics said it has raised $85 million in a round led by its founder, Flagship. The company declined to disclose its other investors.
Omega is aiming to develop a new competitor to gene therapies and gene editing programs, some of the hottest areas in biotech, and plans to use the funding to move its research into human testing.
Finding an alternative to gene therapy
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech specializes in epigenetics, which looks at why genes are turned on or off at certain times. It’s based off the work of two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Omega’s researchers want to restore genes without modifying DNA in the way done in gene therapy or gene editing.
“As we grow from embryos to full-size humans, somewhere along our growth certain genes that allow for growth are turned off because their work is done,” Omega CEO Mahesh Karande told Business Insider. “But sometimes you get a disease where you need to turn those genes on again to resolve the disease. We are the company that can do that.”
They aren’t the only company focused on epigenetics. Epizyme, for instance, is another Cambridge biotech that notched its first drug approval in January to treat a rare type of tissue cancer.
But Omega is hoping its technology can move epigentic medicines forward by bringing more control to what a drug targets and how long its effect lasts.
Omega is the latest bet by Flagship in genetic medicines, following Sana and Tessera
Omega is Flagship’s latest significant bet on genetic medicine, a field where researchers create drugs based on insights into the importance of people’s DNA and RNA.
Many researchers see gene-based medicines as having the potential to be more precise than traditional medicines that use chemicals to impact the body. This has many biotechs aiming to develop cures or treat diseases where current medical options are limited.
In June, Flagship was one of several funders the invested $700 million in Sana Biotechnology, a Seattle biotech that is working on the next wave of gene and cell therapies. And earlier this month, Flagship publicly launched Tessera Therapeutics with $50 million in initial funding to try to write genes instead of just edit them.
Like most of Flagship’s projects, Omega has far-reaching ambitions with its technology. Karande declinded to specify which diseases they are targeting, as the research is still in the earliest stages, but said they are advancing five programs that span across cancer, rare disease, inflammation, autoimmune disorders and metabolic conditions.
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Omega, Sana, and Tessera all have yet to start human testing, meaning their research is likely years away from reaching patients if it does work in clinical trials. Omega hopes to start clincal testing in 2021 with this new funding.