Business

Moderna lands $450m in funding for drug research

Cambridge, MA 1/28/14 Senior research associate Summar Siddiqui at work at Moderna. Moderna Pharma researchers working on a messenger RNA drug platform, for a story on RNA therapeutics. It holds the promise of revolutionizing the discovery of new medicines by turning genes on and off. (Michele McDonald for the Boston Globe)

Michele McDonald for The Boston Globe

Senior research associate Summar Siddiqui at work at Moderna last year.

Moderna Therapeutics Inc., a three-year-old Cambridge company working on 45 experimental drugs in the emerging field of messenger RNA technology, said Monday that it has landed $450 million in new financing — one of the largest private biotech investments ever.

The money will enable Moderna to add 100 employees to its 145-person workforce over the coming year, expand into larger quarters around Kendall Square, and push the first batch of its drug candidates into clinical trials during the next two years, the company said.

Advertisement

Moderna’s funding round includes the institutional giants Viking Global Investors, Invus, RA Capital Management, and Wellington Management Co., as well as a pair of biopharma companies that collaborate with Moderna, AstraZeneca PLC and Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Created by the Cambridge venture capital firm Flagship Ventures, which remains its largest investor, Moderna has developed an RNA messenger technology using genetic information to specify the amino-acid sequence of proteins. Among other things, the approach might allow scientists to inject an RNA “instruction set” into damaged heart tissue to create a stem cell-stimulating protein that would regrow tissue after a heart attack.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“We are advancing a new technology, and we are inventing a new business model,” said Moderna’s chief executive, Stephane Bancel.

Under its business model, Moderna will manage a portfolio of experimental medicines, developing some on its own and others in alliance with larger partners. The Anglo-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca is collaborating with Moderna on 29 drug programs, including the one involving heart tissue. Alexion is working with Moderna on another seven programs. Moderna is developing nine drugs on its own.

Bancel said his “crazy goal” is to use the messenger RNA technology to bring 100 new drugs to patients within the coming decade. Thus far, however, the Cambridge biotech startup has no approved drugs and all of its experimental programs are preclinical.

Advertisement

That hasn’t discouraged investors such as RA Capital Management, a Boston crossover fund that invests in health care-focused private and public companies. Moderna’s approach has the potential to generate drugs to treat multiple diseases and conditions, ranging from heart failure to cancers to enzyme deficiencies, said RA Capital managing partner Peter Kolchinsky.

“Moderna has more variations of what it can do with its technology than any other company I’ve ever seen,” Kolchinsky said. “When we mapped out the disease areas that might be impacted by Moderna’s technology, we realized that we just had to be in the middle of this. If we succeed, this industry isn’t going to be the same in five years.”

The financing round brings to $950 million the total funding raised by Moderna since its founding in 2011. Bancel said Moderna now has $800 million in cash on hand to expand and move its research and development programs forward.

In addition to AstraZeneca and Alexion, it has a partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s research arm. Bancel said his company has no plans to be acquired or to go public in the coming year.

“The plan is to invest more in the technology and hire more people to prove the science,” he said. “We are playing a very long game. It takes many years and a lot of time and cash to improve the performance of a new technology. We believe we are in the beginning of a 20-year performance journey. We want to bring a lot of new medicines to patients.”

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.