Dicerna Gets Glaxo’s SR One to Join Investor Syndicate

Xconomy Boston — 

[Corrected—10/22/10 at 6:25 am ET. See editor’s note] Watertown, MA-based Dicerna Pharmaceuticals said this morning it has brought in $4 million from SR One, the venture capital arm of London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline. The funding makes Glaxo’s SR One the latest big-name investor to buy into Dicerna’s new approach to silencing disease-related genes to treat cancer and other diseases.

SR One’s investment brings Dicerna’s Series B funding—which was initially announced as a $25 million financing in August—to $29 million. Dicerna has now raised a total of $50.4 million from a syndicate that includes Abingworth Management, Domain Associates, Oxford Bioscience Partners, Skyline Ventures, and SR One.

Dicerna, founded in 2007, is a relatively new entrant in the field of RNA interference (RNAi), which uses short pieces of RNA to knock down expression of disease genes. The firm’s molecules are slightly longer than earlier RNAi drugs under development at companies such as Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNM). Dicerna, which is focused on treating cancer, says that its RNAi drugs are more potent and offer a greater duration of gene-silencing activity than previous RNAi molecules. This is because its drugs work at an early point in the gene-silencing pathway. [RNAi drugs are made with short pieces of RNA, not DNA, as was initially reported in this story. We regret the error.]

Brian Gallagher, a partner at SR One, is joining Dicerna’s board as an observer. He and Christoph Westphal—the former CEO of Cambridge’s Sirtris Pharmaceuticals who became president of SR One this year—are based in Boston. Westphal knows the RNAi field well; he co-founded and served as the early CEO of Alnylam.

“We are very excited about the broad potential for RNAi therapeutics to treat diseases caused by a large number of gene targets that are considered ‘undruggable’ with today’s pharmacologic treatments,” Gallagher stated in a press release.

Dicerna is working on advancing its first internal drug candidate into clinical trials for cancer, but the firm isn’t saying what type. Doug Fambrough, the firm’s CEO, said yesterday at Xconomy’s Boston’s War on Cancer forum in Cambridge, that its lead candidate is being developed in partnership with Japan-based drug maker Kyowa Hakko Kirin.