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Atalanta Therapeutics founded by UMass Medical School and three faculty members

Biotech launches with $110 million to pioneer RNA therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases

By Mark L. Shelton

UMass Medical School Communications

January 12, 2021

Atalanta Therapeutics, a biotech founded by UMass Medical School and three faculty research scientists to pioneer treatment options for neurodegenerative diseases, has launched with financing by venture capital fund F-Prime Capital and strategic collaborations with Biogen and Genentech.

Atalanta’s technology, called branched siRNA and licensed from UMass Medical School, is based on more than 30 years of research at the Medical School in the field of RNA biology and its clinical applications. Branched siRNA is a novel oligonucleotide architecture that has shown potent ability to silence gene expression in the central nervous system and can be applied across multiple neurodegenerative diseases.

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The launch of biotech company Atalanta is an example of how UMass Medical School advances new and enabling technologies to accelerate the development of therapeutics for previously intractable diseases.

Atalanta’s founders include Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, the Remondi Family Chair in Biomedical Research and professor of RNA therapeutics, who has more than 20 years of experience developing oligonucleotide technology and therapeutics and played a foundational role in the field of RNAi drug design and development; Craig Mello, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine, distinguished professor of RNA therapeutics and molecular medicine, and a co-recipient (with Andrew Fire of Stanford) of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of RNA interference; and Neil Aronin, MD, the Higgins Family Professor in Neuroscience, professor of medicine and RNA therapeutics and a leader in research into Huntington’s disease for more than three decades.

Preclinical research published in Nature Biotechnology has shown that branched siRNA can achieve unparalleled distribution in the central nervous system, including deep brain structures, and prolonged duration of effect.

“Today’s launch of Atalanta Therapeutics marks a hopeful new era for treating neurodegenerative diseases that, to date, have had few or no existing treatments. Patients, their caregivers and society more broadly have an urgent need for improved therapies,” said Alicia Secor, MBA, president and chief executive officer of Atalanta.

As part of the strategic collaboration with Biogen, Atalanta will develop RNAi therapeutics for multiple targets, including HTT for the treatment of Huntington’s disease, as well as additional unnamed central nervous system targets. Atalanta will be eligible to receive development and milestone payments on these programs as well as royalty payments on any resulting products.

The strategic collaboration with Genentech entails the development of RNAi therapeutics for multiple central nervous system targets for neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Atalanta will be eligible to receive development and milestone payments on these programs as well as royalty payments on any resulting products.

“The formation, funding and launch of Atalanta is an example of how UMass Medical School advances new and enabling technologies to accelerate the development of therapeutics for previously intractable diseases,” said James P. McNamara, PhD, executive director of the UMMS Office of Technology Management, the intellectual property management and licensing office. “In this instance, the University holds an equity stake in the company and has licensed a number of key patent estates to the company to enable them to pursue potential treatments for these serious central nervous system disorders.”

Related stories on UMassMed News:
Inside the new mRNA vaccines for COVID-19
Anastasia Khvorova elected director of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy
UMMS scientists mark progress on Huntington’s disease research