Radar Therapeutics emerges from stealth to develop ‘smart’ mRNA medicines

Startup secures $13.4m seed funding to advance programmable mRNA-based medicines with potential applications in aging.

Biotech startup Radar Therapeutics emerged from stealth this week, announcing a $13.4 million seed financing round for the development of “smart programmable medicines.” Leveraging advanced mRNA technology and proprietary regulatory control elements, the Berkeley, California-based company seeks to address key challenges in genetic medicine through the development of precision therapeutics.

Genetic medicines hold great promise in the longevity field and have demonstrated potential in several age-related diseases, as well as the potential to intervene in the aging process itself. However, Radar claims that development of genetic medicines is currently limited due to a reliance on cell surface proteins for targeting, which can restrict the range applications and necessitate the use of ex vivo cell therapies.

The company is addressing these challenges by developing programmable genetic and mRNA-based therapeutics that use RNA sensors. These sensors, which are mRNAs that activate based on other RNAs present in the cell, enable specific and timely delivery of therapeutic payloads directly to the intended cells. This method aims to minimize systemic toxic side-effects by ensuring that the therapeutic effects are confined to target cells.

“With Radar’s technology, we can now precisely alter the biology of the cell, delete harmful cells, or potentially reprogram cells for autoimmune diseases,” said Dr Jim Collins, co-founder of Radar and Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT. “This has the potential to enable a new generation of safer, more durable and effective mRNA therapeutics for applications beyond vaccines.”

Radar Therapeutics founders Sophia Lugo and Eerik Kaseniit

A recent publication in Nature Biotechnology demonstrates Radar’s precise control of mRNA translation.

“Like a safety switch, our payload is always off, and only gets turned on in the right cell,” said Sophia Lugo, co-founder and CEO of Radar. “We can selectively write a function into any cell type. Programmable mRNA-based therapies have the potential to be in vivo, scalable and modular, to improve patient access.”

Potential applications in aging

In terms of the technology’s specific applications in aging, Lugo told us it was “too early” to discuss Radar’s pipeline, but there are “certainly important aging related applications.”

“Aging cells could be doing something they shouldn’t, such as producing an inflammatory cytokine, or failing to perform necessary cellular functions,” she told us. “Conversely, these same activities might be appropriate for healthy cells in different regions of the body. It is crucial to examine the intracellular environment to determine where therapeutic interventions should be targeted. Specific cell populations may become depleted in an aging body, necessitating replenishment from precursor cells. This process requires the use of factors that, if expressed in other locations, could have severely detrimental effects.”

The company’s RADAR platform is essentially able to read the RNA profile of a cell and find cellular signatures that indicate disease, misbehavior and even aging.

“Once it finds the right cells, and only then, does RADAR selectively reprogram or eliminate those cells,” explained Lugo.

The oversubscribed funding round was led by NfX Bio, with participation from Eli Lilly and Company, Biovision Ventures, KdT Ventures, and others. The funding will support Radar’s efforts to advance its internal programs, expand its team, and form strategic partnerships.

“We’re leveraging the explosion in single-cell transcriptomic data, and advances in our understanding of RNA-editing enzymes such as ADAR, to design simple switches to create smart mRNA therapies,” said Dr Eerik Kaseniit, co-founder and CSO of Radar. “We’ve assembled a world class team to push the platform towards product and are excited to use these funds to grow the team further.”

Photographs courtesy of Radar Therapeutics