Omega Therapeutics Debuts to Develop Epigenetic Drugs


Omega Therapeutics debuted today with a focus on epigenetic drugs. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that don’t involve changes to the DNA sequence. Often these are molecular changes, such as the addition of a methyl group, that control how and when genes are expressed.

Omega was launched by Flagship Pioneering. Mahesh Karande, formerly president and chief executive officer of Macrolide Pharmaceuticals and a long-time Novartis executive, is coming on board as president, chief executive officer and board member.

At this time, Omega isn’t indicating what its drugs will be like, how they will be delivered, or what indications they will focus on. Or, for that matter, how close they are to the clinic. It does indicate that its technology platform “precisely tunes” Insulated Genomic Domains (IGDs), a key regulator, or GenomStats, of the human genome. These are three-dimensional closed-loop structures in DNA that control genomic activity. GenomStats tune the IGDs while the Omega Controllers tune genomic activity.

“By mapping the topology of the human genome and using computational biology, we have been able to identify the correct genomic target for a therapeutic influence,” stated David Berry, General Partner of Flagship Pioneering, co-founder of Omega. “Omega’s proprietary platform technology allows us to develop therapeutics for disease control, and potentially impact the way we treat and manage a broad range of illnesses.”

Berry added, “In addition to our own capabilities for therapeutic development, our technology also presents the opportunity to partner and optimize other targeted in vivo and ex vivo therapeutics to enhance their ability to treat disease and further help a wide range of patient populations with significant unmet needs.”

The company is extending and advancing the epigenetics research of Richard Young and Rudolf Jaenish, both Professors of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Members of the Whitehead Institute. They first described how IGDs controlled genomic activity. Young also serves on the company’s board of directors.

Epigenetics is a young science and there are only a few epigenetic drugs on the market. They include Merck’s Zolinza (vorinostat) for lymphoma, Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s Dacogen (decitabine) for myelodysplastic syndrome, Novartis’s Farydak (panobinostat) for multiple myeloma and Pharmion’s Vidaza (azaacitidine) for myelodysplastic syndrome. Epizyme’s tazemetostat is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for epithelioid sarcoma. All these drugs target enzymes involved in regulating gene expression.

Researchers have had difficulties determining exactly which epigenetic switches control what and how to modify them without triggering unwanted side effects. Many of the companies, including Omega, are leveraging advances in computational biology to identify the targets.

“The depth and breadth of our platform gives us the ability to create the transformative genomic medicines that deliver specificity of targeting, tunability, and durability of single and multi-gene expression, all without altering nucleic acid sequences,” said Karande. “Our platform enables us to develop proprietary Omega Controllers, a new class of therapeutics targeting the control of a wide range of diseases in unprecedented ways. With a team of world-class scientists, founders and advisors, we are already executing several ambitious early-stage discovery programs in the near-term, as we strengthen our platform to address the vast opportunity of treating diseases resulting from genomic malfunction or dysregulation.”

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