These 2 Startups are Amgen's 2017 Golden Ticket Winners


Amgen tapped two companies to receive its coveted 2017 Golden Ticket at LabCentral. Kernal Biologics Inc. and QurAlis were selected for the award following a “QuickPitch” event at Amgen’s Cambridge R&D and Operations facility. Kernal Biologics and QurAlis were among five companies that pitched their business plan to attendees of the event.

Kernal Biologics Inc. develops therapeutic messenger RNAs via deep learning for immuno-oncology applications. Kernal's unique methods of sequence engineering and smart design are intended to develop a technology platform that will dramatically improve the efficacy of existing mRNA technologies.

Kernal Biologics President Yusef Erkul said Amgen’s scientific guidance combined with LabCentral’s “innovative and supportive environment” will enhance the company’s efforts to “bring safe, tolerable and efficacious mRNA medicine to patients with acute myelogenous leukemia.”

The other Golden Ticket winner, QurAlis, develops precision medicine for treatment of patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). QurAlis is currently developing therapies for three different forms of ALS with known disease mechanisms which include: a transformative device to remove toxic proteins; a drug that mediates overactive neurons and prevents them from dying; and a drug that restores a dysfunctional waste clearance system in cells.

“We are extremely excited to win the Amgen Golden Ticket,” Kasper Roet, founder and chief executive officer at QurAlis, said in a statement. “The space and facilities at LabCentral will enable QurAlis to enhance our ALS patient-derived stem cell platform, which we will use in the development of all three of our therapeutic programs. It is also an incredible testament to our team, progress and potential for developing therapies for ALS patients.”

The Golden Ticket Award provides the winners with one year of bench space for one scientist at LabCentral. That includes the benefit of LabCentral's shared infrastructure and services and participation in LabCentral training modules and seminars. Amgen scientists also provide informal mentoring to the winning companies. LabCentral is a first-of-its-kind shared laboratory space designed as a launchpad for high-potential life sciences and biotech startups.

Because of Amgen’s sponsorship role with LabCentral, the pharma giant can nominate up to two early-stage companies annually to take up residence in LabCentral's Kendall Square facilities.

John Dunlop, head of neuroscience at Amgen, said the Golden Ticket competition captured the essence of “why Amgen is committed to contributing to and collaborating in the Cambridge biotech ecosystem.” Dunlop said the company was not only evaluating the five companies and the science each company is working on, but also recognized the companies that represented potential assets that Amgen could help bring forward.

“Awarding the Golden Tickets to Kernal Biologics Inc. and QurAlis aligns with Amgen's ongoing research focus within oncology and neuroscience,” Dunlop said in a statement.

Amgen first began to sponsor the Golden Ticket program with LabCentral in 2014. So far, Amgen has awarded five additional Golden Tickets at LabCentral. In addition to the two most recent winners, Amgen awarded Golden Tickets to Novopyxis, Cocoon Biotech, Platelet Biogenesis and Torus Therapeutics.

LabCentral is not the only incubator with which Amgen has its Golden Ticket Award program. The pharma giant also has a program with San Francisco-based QB3@953 business incubator. In July, Amgen awarded Golden Tickets to Bay Area companies, Darmivan and Enable Biosciences.

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