Versant Venture and MPM Capital co-led a $68-million Series A fundraising round to establish Repare Therapeutics, a Canada-based cancer drug company exploiting a high-throughput, CRISPR-based screening platform to identify synthetic lethality cancer targets and develop precision anticancer therapies.

For the last 18 months, Repare has been working in stealth mode under Versant incubation to develop its synthetic lethality platform and identify initial oncology targets. The firm says a number of programs have now been moved into preclinical development, and clinical trials with an initial candidate could start in 2019.

Additional investors in Repare’s Series A fundraising included Fonds de solidarité FTQ, Celgene Switzerland, and BDC Capital’s Healthcare Venture Fund.

“Versant’s commitment to and confidence in Repare’s distinct science has enabled the company to build the team, operations and initial programs away from the spotlight,” said Repare CEO Lloyd M. Segal. “With the added leadership of MPM and this syndicate, we are financed to achieve our goal of testing our multiple new, precision oncology therapeutics in a clinical setting.”

Synthetic lethality occurs when the presence of mutations in two specific genes cause cell death, whereas the presence of one of the mutations alone does not. The concept of using synthetic lethality to target cancers is already being exploited through the development of PARP inhibitors for treating cancers with BRCA1 or BRCA1 mutations.

Repare’s discovery engine exploits CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, in combination with protein crystallography, computational biology, and clinical informatics, in a high-throughput screening platform that is designed to identify new drug targets that, when blocked, induce synthetic lethality in cancer cells exhibiting commonly found tumor-related mutations.

Repare’s first disclosed program targets PolQ, which codes for enzyme DNA-directed DNA polymerase theta, a polymerase enzyme that plays a key role in repairing double stranded DNA breaks. Polymerase theta is highly expressed in ovarian, breast and other cancers. The PolQ program is based on drug discovery work carried out by Agnel Sfeir, Ph.D., at NYU School of Medicine, to which Repare has an exclusive license.

Based on Quebec, Canada, and in Boston, MA, Repare is headed by Lloyd M. Segal, who is a Versant entrepreneur-in-residence, who has previously headed Caprion Pharmaceuticals, Advanced Bioconcept, and Thallion Pharmaceuticals. The Repare management team also includes Executive Vice President  and Head of R&D Michael Zinda, Ph.D., who previously led the oncology bioscience operation at AstraZeneca in Boston. Repare’s vice president of discovery, Cameron Black, Ph.D., led Merck Frosst’s medicinal chemistry efforts for 18 years.

Jerel Davis, Ph.D., managing director at Versant, and Todd Foley, managing director at MPM Capital, will join Repare’s board of directors. “We are impressed by the speed and precision with which Repare, in collaboration with its founders and scientific advisors, generated impressive insights and multiple novel targets,” Dr. Davis commented. “We evaluated nearly every opportunity in the synthetic lethality space and have complete conviction that Repare, its founders and its SAB members represent the leaders in the field,” added Foley. 

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