Biotech co-founded by Alex Aravanis and Feng Zhang targets epigenetic code to reprogram cells to a healthy state.
Genomic medicine company Moonwalk Biosciences has emerged from stealth with $57 million in a combined seed and Series A financing to advance the development of precision epigenetic medicines. Co-founded by former Illumina CTO Dr Alex Aravanis and MIT and Harvard scientist Dr Feng Zhang, the company aims to reprogram cells to their healthy state, using “read-and-write” technologies to develop potentially curative therapies for diseases at the root cause level.
Moonwalk is targeting the epigenetic code – the “software of the genome” – the chemical changes that happen to our genes over time, but without fundamentally changing the DNA sequence itself. Changes to the epigenome are caused by our behavior and environment, and can affect the way our genes work.
Moonwalk says its platform provides a comprehensive view of the epigenome in both healthy and diseased states, combining AI prediction of methylation targets with a suite of epigenetic engineering tools.
Reprogramming the epigenome
Distinguishing itself from existing gene-editing methods, Moonwalk says its epigenetic editors use the cell’s natural regulation system to control multiple genes accurately and permanently in a single step, without altering the DNA sequence. The company claims this approach minimizes off-target effects and toxicities while maintaining the integrity of the primary DNA sequence – potentially enabling the creation of safer and more effective treatments for a range of diseases.
“While changes to the genome are irreversible, edits to the epigenome can be reprogrammed in different ways,” said Moonwalk CEO Aravanis, who co-authored a recent paper in Nature describing a DNA methylation atlas of human cells. “Epigenetic changes determine whether genes are turned on or off, and can potentially reverse disease, broadening the therapeutic landscape to find potential cures previously thought impossible.”
Potential in age-related disease
Cellular reprogramming is a hot topic in longevity, and Aravanis told us that Moonwalk is studying its effect on the epigenome.
“By converting transcription factor expression protocols into more precise epigenetic programs, it may be possible to achieve the benefits of programming or partial reprogramming, but with more specific control over cell state,” he said. “For example, to gain the benefits of higher function without losing the somatic features of cells.”
Aravanis added that combining Moonwalk’s “read” capability to fully characterize the methylation state at the single cell level with its “write” technology to change the methylation state, is “the ideal way to create the epigenetic version of reprogramming.”
When it comes to the company’s potential in targeting diseases of aging specifically, Aravanis told us that epigenetic alterations are “a hallmark of aging that strongly correlate with decline in cell function.”
“There is increasing evidence that these alterations are causally related to loss of function,” he said. “Moonwalk’s epigenome engineering platform can identify these epigenetics changes with unprecedented resolution, predict which targets may be causally related to the loss of function, and then reverse their methylation state, testing them as candidates to restore cell function.”
Funded through to IND studies
The new funding raised will support the ongoing development of Moonwalk’s epigenetic profiling and engineering technology platform, as well as the progression of its pipeline of epigenetic therapeutics towards clinical trials.
“The Series A will take the company toward IND enabling studies and filing,” Aravanis told us, explaining that the funding gives Moonwalk a cash runway of approximately three years, and that the company will work toward taking its development candidates into the clinic as part of a Series B financing.
Investors in the round include Alpha Wave Global, ARCH Venture Partners, Future Ventures, GV, Khosla Ventures, and YK Bioventures.
“Historically, the epigenome was poorly understood,” said Rick Gerson, Chairman of Alpha Wave Global. “Moonwalk is operating at a different level of biology, by profiling and unlocking our understanding of the epigenome to enable more precise engineering. The company’s novel platform technology provides the highest-resolution, complete view of the epigenome in health and disease to uniquely address unmet medical needs across various indications, including complex diseases.”