A developer of gene editing-based therapies launched today with $58.5 million in Series A financing, will license CRISPR patents from the Broad Institute and Harvard University, and partner with Beam Therapeutics, to develop cardiovascular treatments based on editing the adult human genome.
Verve Therapeutics has set for itself the ambitious goal of protecting the world from heart disease by developing new therapies that edit the adult human genome in order to permanently reduce a person’s risk of coronary artery disease.
Verve said it has licensed foundational CRISPR patents—including Cas9 and Cas12a (Cpf1)—from the Broad and Harvard for human therapeutic applications against specified cardiovascular targets.
The company will also receive exclusive access to base editing, gene editing, and delivery technologies for human therapeutic applications against specified cardiovascular targets from Beam Therapeutics—a year-old developer of base-editing treatments that launched last year and had raised $222 million as of March.
The value of the Beam collaboration and CRISPR patent licenses have not been disclosed.
Verve did say, however, that following completion of Phase I studies, Beam has the option to participate in future development and commercialization, and share 50% of U.S. profits and losses, for any product directed against the targets. The parties will also collaborate on the development of novel delivery technologies. In addition, Verve has partnered with Verily with the goal of leveraging Verily’s unique nanoparticle screening platform to develop and optimize new gene editing delivery vehicles.
Verve and Beam also agreed to partner on developing novel delivery technologies, while Verve will also partner with Google parent Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences, with the goal of developing and optimizing new gene editing delivery vehicles by leveraging Verily’s nanoparticle screening platform.
A co-founder of Beam—Keith Joung, MD, PhD, pathologist and Desmond and Ann Heathwood research scholar, Massachusetts General Hospital; and professor of pathology, Harvard Medical School—is among 12 co-founders of Verve, along with Sekar Kathiresan, MD, Verve’s incoming CEO and board member; Andrew Ashe, JD, president and chief operating officer; and Kiran Musunuru, MD, PhD, MPH, the company’s chief scientific advisor and associate professor of cardiovascular medicine and genetics at Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.
‘A transformative moment’
“Our genetic understanding of coronary artery disease, combined with increasing sophistication of gene editing technologies, have aligned to create a transformative moment in the treatment of this disease,” Kathiresan said in a statement. “Verve was founded to turn the tide of coronary artery disease worldwide. Gene editing offers the possibility of introducing protective gene variants to adults at risk of the disease through a one-time therapy.”
Kathiresan is expected to join the company in July. When he does, he will step down from his current positions as director of the Center for Genomic Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, co-director of the program in medical and population genetics at the Broad Institute, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Kathiresan’s lab aims to understand the genetic basis for myocardial infarction (MI) and its risk factors, as well as apply these insights to prevent and treat heart disease. The lab has helped highlight new biological mechanisms underlying heart attack, discovered mutations shown to protect against heart attack risk, and developed a genetic test for personalized heart attack prevention.
Musunuru added that gene editing has the potential to completely transform the treatment paradigm for the disease: “Preclinical studies conducted in the field, including work done in my lab, have shown the promise of gene editing to safely reduce cholesterol and other coronary artery disease risk factors.”
Verve aims to commercialize genetic research conducted by its founders and others that has identified healthy adults who carry naturally occurring gene variants that dramatically lower their lifetime risk of coronary artery disease and heart attacks.
The company said it plans to build on that research by developing gene editing therapies that confer lifelong protection in adults at risk of coronary artery disease.
Somatic cell edits
All therapeutics to be developed by Verve involve making edits in adult (somatic) cells, which are not passed down to offspring. Verve said it will focus first on developing treatments for patients with life-threatening coronary artery disease and high unmet medical need—then widen its clinical focus to include progressively larger patient populations at risk of coronary artery disease, as the company establishes safety and efficacy for its treatment approaches.
Verve was launched with $58.5 million in Series A financing led by GV (formerly Google Ventures), with participation by ARCH Venture Partners, F-Prime Capital, and Biomatics Capital.
Joining Kathiresan, Ashe, Musunuru, and Joung on Verve’s founding team are eight other co-founders who will serve as board members or advisors. Verve’s board will be chaired by Burt Adelman, MD, a former executive vice president of R&D at Biogen, and a former executive vice president of R&D and chief medical officer, Dyax.
The other co-founders include:
- Barry Ticho, MD, PhD, board member; chief medical officer, Stoke Therapeutics
- Krishna Yeshwant, MD, MBA, board member; general partner, GV
- Anthony Philippakis, MD, PhD, strategic advisor and board member; chief data officer, Broad Institute; venture partner, GV
- John Evans, MBA, board member; CEO, Beam Therapeutics; venture partner, ARCH Venture Partners
- Jessica Alston, PhD, board observer; principal, F-Prime Capital
- Boris Nikolic, MD, board observer; co-founder and managing director, Biomatics Capital
- Issi Rozen, MBA, strategic advisor; chief business officer, Broad Institute
Verve also named three members to its scientific advisory board:
- Eugene Braunwald, MD, cardiologist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH); Distinguished Hersey professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School; former chair of medicine, BWH; founding chief academic officer, Partners Healthcare
- Penny M. Heaton, MD, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute; and
- Daniel J. Rader, MD, Seymour Gray professor of molecular medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania