Kojin Therapeutics Debuts to Solve Difficult Diseases Through Cell Behavior

Company Launch

Kojin Therapeutics launched with a $60 million Series A to initially focus on oncology and cell state biology. The round was led by Polaris Partners, Newpath Partners, and Cathay Health, affiliated to Cathay Capital. Participants included Leaps by Bayer, AbbVie, Eventide Asset Management, Alexandria, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Binney Street Capital, and several family offices.

The approach came out of the laboratory of Stuart Schreiber, Harvard University professor and co-founder of the Broad Institute. Co-founders of Kojin include Benjamin Cravatt, Stephanie Dougan and Vasanthi Viswanathan. The company’s technology is ferroptosis-based drug discovery, which is to say, iron-dependent cell death. Kojin says that difficult-to-treat diseases, which includes drug-resistant cancers, involve diseased cells that are sensitive to ferroptosis.

“At Kojin, we have pioneered a fundamentally new way of looking at biology that unlocks enormous potential for drug discovery,” said Schreiber. “It’s become clear that looking at cells anatomically is less important than looking at how cells function. Understanding cell states allows us to determine how a cell behaves and to target cells previously thought untouchable in cancer and other diseases. The ferroptosis-sensitive state is just the beginning.”

Kojin’s technology platform leverages a novel non-genetic classification of cell states. This allows them to understand how a cell responds to its environment and to a specific compound or molecule. It finds specific drug targets by connecting complex cell states to known biochemical processes, such as ferroptosis.

The company’s Scientific Advisory Board includes Stuart Schreiber, Morris Loeb Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard; Benjamin Cravatt, Professor and Norton B. Gilula Chair of Chemical Biology in the Department of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute; Stephanie Dougan, Assistant Professor, Microbiology and Immunology, Harvard Medical School, Investigator, Cancer Immunology and Virology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Sean Morrison, director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; George Demetri, director of the Sarcoma Center at Dana-Farber, director of the Ludwig Center at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, and executive director for Clinical and Translational Research at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Joel Barrish, Cofounder and Chief Scientific Officer, Jnana Therapeutics; and Steve Davidsen, Vice President, Oncology Discovery, AbbVie Biopharmaceuticals.

The acting chief executive officer is Amir Nashat, Managing Director at Polaris. The acting president is Susan Langer, former head of Corporate Strategy at Biogen. Kay Ahn, former global head of Molecular & Cell Pharmacology at Janssen is chief scientific officer.

“Preventing and curing cancer is one of the 10 big goals (“leaps”), Leaps by Bayer is focusing on,” said Jurgen Eckhardt, Head of Leaps by Bayer. “The Kojin team brings a deep biological understanding of cell states and ferroptosis that will allow us to discover mechanisms of action to treat cancers that today lack effective therapies. The company’s unique insights and innovative approach to drug discovery has the potential to move us from treatment to cures, and we’re pleased to support them as they accelerate their platform to deliver on that mission.”

Nagesh Mahanthappa, a biotech entrepreneur and member of Kojin’s board of directors, told The Boston Business Journal, “It was kind of like we were reaching into a darkened box of wooden blocks that were different shapes. We would feel around and say, here are spheres, cubes, pyramids. The Schreiber Lab is shining a light, and suddenly, we see colors, and the colors allow us to see all-new definitions. The colors are giving you a completely different way of viewing cells and categorizing them, identifying a dynamic molecular signature.”

Kojin believes that ferroptosis will allow them to approach historically difficult-to-drug diseases, such as sarcomas and certain types of fibrosis.

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