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Pharma, BioPharma
By Frank Vinluan
mRNA
 
The pipeline of potential RNA medicines continues to grow, following a trail blazed by messenger RNA Covid-19 vaccines that validated these molecules as a therapeutic modality. Eclipsebio is part of this new field, but not in the same way as others. At academic and industry labs, scientists are trying to find the best ways to either drug RNA or use it as a drug. Eclipse Bioinnovations provides insights that guides this research.
Eclipsebio has commercialized a technology that makes RNA maps detailing how the molecule interacts with proteins that bind to it. The company has found traction with small biotech companies as well as pharmaceutical giants. On Tuesday, the San Diego-based startup announced a $14 million Series A round of financing to support its growth.
Eclipsebio was co-founded by Gene Yeo, a University of California San Diego professor whose research had previously led to the launch of other biotech startups. Yeo is an expert in RNA, and the technology that forms the basis of Eclipsebio began as RNA research in his UCSD lab. This technology, called eCLIP, identifies binding sites for RNA-binding proteins. In 2016, Yeo and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Methods describing the use of eCLIP in more than 100 experiments spanning a range of RNA-binding proteins. Eclipsebio CEO Peter Chu said that after that paper appeared, other scientists reached out to Yeo.
“Gene Yeo’s lab was inundated with requests to do eCLIP [analysis],” Chu said. “They just couldn’t handle it. That was the genesis of the business.”
Yeo formed Eclipsebio in 2017. At two previous companies he had co-founded, Enzerna and Locanabio, the focus is developing therapies that use RNA or target it. Eclipsebio does not develop RNA drugs, but the startup helps the companies that do. In order to develop a drug that targets an RNA-binding protein, scientists need insight into the structure of RNA and where a protein is binding to it. Chu, a Biogen veteran, said Eclipsebio’s technologies provide this insight into RNA, a complicated molecule that hasn’t been studied as a drug target for very long.
Eclipsebio operates as a service provider to companies or academic labs. The question they may want to answer is how a particular protein is binding to RNA in a cell type of interest. Customers send the cells to Eclipsebio and give the company information about the antibodies that can bind to the RNA-binding protein of interest. Chu’s team does the processing, sequencing, and data analysis. The end product provided to the customer is a comprehensive data package.
“It is a relatively new field and it’s going places that no one’s seen before,” Chu said. “The tools are there at the academic level. These are advanced RNA technologies that aren’t available commercially as a service.”
In addition to eCLIP, Eclipsebio also offers analysis with a technology called SHAPE, which looks at the structure of RNA to find pockets where small molecules can bind. That insight can help scientists determine the places on RNA they should target with a drug.
Chu said that Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Genentech were among Eclipsebio’s first customers, helping to validate the startup’s approach. The company has since added additional life sciences industry customers, though Chu said that he could not disclose them. Academic users include Harvard University, Stanford University, and New York University.
Eclipsebio’s initial research was supported by $4.5 million from multiple grants. The company also closed two prior seed rounds whose total dollar value remains undisclosed. With the new financing, Chu said Eclipsebio will develop additional technologies. For example, in the case of mRNA vaccine research, scientists want to understand if a protein is being translated. Chu said Eclipsebio will invest in developing such technology. The company will also build out its commercial team. Eclipsebio currently employs 30. Chu envisions adding 10 to 15 more employees over the next 18 months.
The Series A round was co-led by Alexandria Venture Investments and iGlobe. Other participants in the financing were Photon Venture Alpha and Phoenix Venture Partners.
Image of mRNA by libre de droit, Getty Images
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