Moderna Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of messenger RNA (mRNA) Therapeutics, has launched Elpidera, a new Moderna venture focused exclusively on the advancement of mRNA-based medicines for the treatment of rare diseases.
The third in a series of venture companies created by Moderna, Elpidera will be led by Dr. Greg Licholai. Elpidera, which is derived from the Greek word elpida meaning "hope," will leverage Moderna's mRNA platform to create novel therapies to address diseases in small patient populations with severe unmet medical needs.
Moderna signed a strategic agreement with Alexion in January 2014 that allows Alexion to have 10 product options in rare diseases. Elpidera will advance programs that are independent from the Alexion programs and proprietary to Moderna, while also supporting Alexion in its efforts to leverage the Moderna technology platform through the existing agreement.
"The creation of new venture teams is critical to advancing our decentralized drug development business strategy at Moderna. We are pleased to announce Elpidera as our second venture company launched in 2015 after launching Valera, our venture company focused in infectious diseases," said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna. "Ventures are the other leg of our strategy to add to the efforts of our pharma and biotech partners. In total, we are driving more than 50 preclinical mRNA programs across cardiovascular, infectious diseases, oncology and rare diseases."
Licholai will be president of Elpidera. He has more than 25 years of experience in biotechnology, in both consulting and entrepreneurial capacities. Previously, he was senior vice president for real-world and late-stage research at Quintiles. He was a partner-level consultant at McKinsey & Company, where he led a business line devoted to big data analytics for new drug launches. Licholai also was chief operating officer of Proteostasis, a private biotechnology company, and earlier, was one of the first senior executives at rare disease biotech Amicus Therapeutics, helping put three products into human clinical trials for orphan indications and take the company public in 2007. He was also co-founder of Immunome, a biotech firm focused on a novel antibody platform.
Moderna is creating first-in-class in vivo medicines called mRNA Therapeutics designed to directly utilize the body's natural processes to enable the in vivo production of therapeutic proteins. The company has demonstrated the ability to direct the production of both intracellular proteins, which remain within the cells, and secreted proteins, which are released into the bloodstream and act to restore function elsewhere in the body. The range of potential applications make mRNA Therapeutics a powerful tool to address the more than 7,000 rare diseases identified to date, only a small fraction of which are adequately addressed by existing therapies.
In addition to strategic agreements with industry collaborators AstraZeneca (cardiovascular/oncology), Alexion Pharmaceuticals (rare diseases) and Merck (infectious diseases), Moderna is creating a series of venture teams focused in distinct therapeutic areas, enabling the rapid advancement of new mRNA medicines across different modalities and therapeutic areas at an unprecedented pace and scale. This model has enabled Moderna to simultaneously scale up to more than 50 drug development programs across multiple therapeutic areas.