The Cambridge venture capital firm behind Moderna, the coronavirus vaccine maker, on Tuesday unveiled a new biotech called Quotient Therapeutics that will have offices in Massachusetts and the United Kingdom.
Quotient, which was founded last year and had operated in stealth mode, wants to develop drugs that target illnesses caused by genetic changes that occur as people age. Those conditions include immune diseases, cancers, neurodegenerative illnesses, and cardiometabolic disorders, such as heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
With an initial $50 million from the venture firm Flagship Pioneering, Quotient will be located in Cambridge, Mass., and Cambridge, England. Most of the academic co-founders work in the British city. Quotient is the first Flagship-backed biotech that will be based in both countries.
Flagship, which cofounded Moderna in 2010, has been raising its international profile. Earlier this year, it announced that it had opened an office in London, and this month said it had opened a hub in Singapore.
Quotient wants to develop medicines for a broad range of diseases caused by somatic mutations. Those are changes to your DNA that happen after conception and cannot be passed on to the next generation. They occur spontaneously as people age as a result of errors in DNA repair mechanisms or as a response to stress.
In contrast, many gene-based treatments that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in recent years target diseases caused by so-called germline mutations, which are present in every cell of the body from birth and can be passed on to succeeding generations.
Geoffrey von Maltzahn, cofounder and chief executive of Quotient and a general partner at Flagship, said the commonly held view that each person has a single genome, or complete set of genetic instructions, is wrong.
“All cells accumulate random genetic changes in their DNA, resulting in trillions of unique genomes in the body,” said von Maltzahn. “Some genetic changes make a cell resistant or vulnerable to disease, while others can cause disease” as people age.
Quotient is assembling data on mutations inside tissues, analyzing which changes are beneficial and which ones cause disorders, in the hopes of developing medicines.
“Already, we’ve created the world’s largest somatic genomes dataset” and begun translating “our genetic discoveries into drug discoveries,” said Jacob Rubens, co-founder and president of Quotient, and also a partner at Flagship.
Quotient has roughly 30 employees, including about 20 in Cambridge, England, and 10 at Flagship Labs in Cambridge, Mass.
The academic cofounders of the company include Sir Michael Stratton, Inigo Martincorena, and Dr. Peter Campbell, of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, a nonprofit genomics research institute located just outside Cambridge, England. Another academic co-founder is Dr. Hao Zhu, a physician-researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.