Gene Therapy Company Locana Earns $55 Million in Series A Financing

Pile of dollar bills

Backed by Google and other noted venture capital companies, San Diego-based Locana, Inc. launched with $55 million in a Series A financing round that will be used to expand the company’s pipeline of RNA-targeting gene therapy programs.

Locana, which was founded in 2016, will be helmed by Jeffrey Ostrove, the former chief executive officer of AbVitro and Ceregene. The new company will use the funds from the Series A to support its modular RNA targeting-effector approach to treating diseases. The company noted that its approach is distinct from DNA-targeted approaches and nucleic acid-based RNA targeting. According to a diagram on its website, the company will use a gene therapy vector to deliver an RNA-targeting protein tipped with an RNA-modifying enzyme. Through targeting RNA, the company said its approach avoids the risk of off-target effects in DNA and is suited to address many diseases linked to dysfunctional processing of RNA.

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Locana is advancing multiple programs through preclinical studies with an initial focus on genetic repeat expansion diseases, the company said. However, at the moment, the company has not disclosed what those targets are. The company’s website does not provide any additional information about its pipeline.

Ostrove said he was drawn to “the power of the Locana RNA-targeting gene therapy platform” and the opportunities it presented in developing treatments for “dozens of diseases with first- and best-in-class therapeutics.”

The technology used by Locana was developed in the laboratory of Eugene (Gene) Yeo, a professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California at San Diego. Two of Yeo’s research papers, “Programmable RNA Tracking in Live Cells with CRISPR/Cas9” and “Elimination of Toxic Microsatellite Repeat Expansion RNA by RNA-Targeting Cas9” can be examined on the company’s website. Yeo chairs the Locana scientific advisory board.

In addition to GV (formerly known as Google Ventures, Locana’s Series A was backed by ARCH Venture Partners, Temasek and Lightstone Ventures. Also, the round was supported by UCB Ventures. Tom Daniel of ARCH Ventures was named chairman of the board of directors at Locana.

In addition to supporting the development of the company’s pipeline, Locana said a portion of the proceeds will be used to support the hiring of an executive team.

“I am eager to build the team, cultivate our own pipeline as well as partnering opportunities and set the company on the course to achieve long-term success with a portfolio of therapeutics to benefit patients,” Ostrove said.

Some members of the board of directors have been named. In addition to Daniel, Cayce Denton of Temase and Jean George of Lightstone Ventures were named to the board of directors. Ostrove and Yeo will also serve.

“The Locana team has rapidly advanced foundational science from Dr. Yeo's lab into an impressive preclinical data set, demonstrating the potential of this RNA-targeting platform to be therapeutically impactful in genetic diseases and beyond,” Daniel said in a statement.

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