Laronde aims to turn cells into drug production facilities using eRNA

Venture capital backed biotech Laronde has created a new type of RNA it claims can be used to create programmable protein therapeutics.

The Massachusetts based firm unveiled its “Endless RNA” platform this week, while also confirming it had secured a $50 million investment to support development and an initial pipeline of medicines from Flagship Pioneering.

Endless RNA – or eRNA – is based on of long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), which is naturally abundant in circular form within mammalian cells. Unlike messenger RNA (mRNA), which initiates translation, lncRNA does not readily interact with ribosomes.

The Laronde team has developed a way of converting lncRNA into closed loops that can be translated, allowing for the production of proteins.

In addition, because eRNA molecules have no free ends they are not recognized by the innate immune system and digested by enzymes. This stability means eRNA molecules encoded to express therapeutic proteins remain in the cell long enough to have a therapeutic effect.

Noubar Afeyan, co-founder of Laronde and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, emphasized the technology’s potential for making protein therapeutics.

“With Endless RNA we have created a new class of medicines that can be programmed to persistently express therapeutic proteins in the body, at tunable levels, without generating an unwanted immune response, in a continuously redosable manner, with very simple delivery.

“The possible applications of this platform are very broad, with applications that have the potential to replace or augment many drug modalities currently in use.”

To support production of eRNA-based therapies, Laronde plans to establish manufacturing capacity. According to the firm the “eRNA Gigabase Factory” will accommodate the clinical and commercial manufacture of up to 100 products and drug programs in the next 10 years.

Laronde said it plans to hire 200 research scientists and engineers over the next two years.