When it comes to getting a drug into a cell, size matters. Small molecules can easily pass through the cellular membrane in a way that larger therapeutic proteins can’t, which makes it difficult to develop a biological drug that can reach its target, says Dipal Doshi, CEO of biotech startup Entrada Therapeutics.
Entrada, which translates to “entry” in Spanish and Portuguese, says its technology can overcome the cellular barrier. As Entrada works toward tests of its technology in humans, the company has raised $59 million in Series A financing. 5AM Ventures and MPM Capital co-led the investment.
Entrada’s approach is based on endocytosis, the process by which a substance is brought into a cell. The company says its drugs enter cells by coupling the biological product to a cell-penetrating peptide from Entrada’s proprietary library. The technology that forms the basis of this approach was originally developed in the laboratory of Dehua Pei, a chemistry professor at the Ohio State University. Pei discovered a family of peptides that can efficiently transport small molecules, peptides, proteins, and nucleic acids into a cell.
“It’s a delivery technology, that’s one part of it,” Doshi says. “But getting that biologic into the cell is what’s really important.”
Scientists have studied cell-penetrating peptides for therapeutic applications. Doshi (pictured above) says that venture partners at 5AM saw Pei speak about his research at a conference in late 2016. The firm worked out a licensing agreement with the university, provided seed funding, and incubated Entrada within 4:59, 5AM’s biotech incubator. Entrada, which currently employs fewer than 10, is in lease negotiations for space in the Boston area.
So far, Entrada has tested its approach in mice. Doshi, who joined Entrada last year, says those tests have shown that the Entrada therapy can get a therapy into a cell, reach multiple organs, and remain stable in the body. He adds that the technology is a platform that offers the potential to deliver several different types of drugs, such as enzyme replacement therapies, protein-blocking drugs, and nucleic acids.
Entrada’s lead target is a rare, fatal mitochondrial disease. For now, Doshi is staying mum on which mitochondrial disease Entrada is focusing on, other than to say that it has no FDA-approved treatments, no treatment candidates on the horizon, and the standard of care is counseling prospective parents about the likelihood that they will pass the genetic disorder to their child.
Doshi, who brings to Entrada his experience working as chief business officer at rare disease drug developer Amicus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FOLD), declined to provide an estimate for when Entrada could start testing its technology in humans. But he says the new funding is expected to be enough to bring Entrada’s lead program that far and also continue R&D on additional programs.
Others that invested in Entrada’s Series A round were Roche Venture Fund, MRL Ventures Fund and Agent Capital.
Photo by Entrada Therapeutics