16:13 PM

Ohio State startup raises $59 million in initial funding to treat “undruggable” illness

A biotechnology company with roots at The Ohio State University is making news after raising $59 million from investors.

Entrada Therapeutics is a biotechnology company developing new ways of treating devastating diseases by delivering drugs into target cells. The company was co-founded by Dehua Pei, Charles H. Kimberly Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Ohio State.

The funding sets a new record for Ohio State startups as the largest Series A round of funding.

Pei and his research team at Ohio State have developed an approach to treating so-called “undruggable” diseases. Approximately 80 percent of all drug targets are out of the reach of current drug development approaches and are termed “undruggable” by the drug discovery community.

“Our commitment to bold, high-impact research can be seen in innovators like Dehua, who show how discoveries made in the lab can have an impact far beyond our campus,” said Janet Box-Steffensmeier, interim executive dean and vice provost the College of Arts and Sciences. “Through his platform for intracellular drug delivery, Dehua is an exemplar of research excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio State.”

Pei’s research uncovered a family of small cyclic peptides, or amino acids strung together into a ring, that are capable of delivering all major drug modalities – from small molecules to large proteins – into a cell.

“In real estate, they say the three most important things are ‘location, location, location.’ In drug discovery, particularly in biologics, what is most important is ‘delivery, delivery, delivery,’” said Pei.

“It has been a challenge for the pharma and biotech industry to find a way to deliver drugs of larger sizes, such as biologics, into the cell. We have developed a technology that seems to be very effective in taking molecules, large or small, into the cell.”

The first application of Entrada’s platform is focused on treating a rare and fatal mitochondrial disease with no approved treatment that is caused by mutations in a gene that contains instructions for production of an intracellular enzyme. The financing will allow Entrada to advance its lead program into human clinical trials. The company also plans to broaden its work on rare diseases involving single genes by identifying and advancing additional intracellular enzyme replacement therapies.

“The ability to move potential drugs through cell walls has been a goal for the biomedical industry for decades. Many compounds are effective in treating specific diseases, but the challenge for many has always been to penetrate cell walls to move the drug compound to where it needs to do its work,” said Susan Olesik, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “This platform technology has the potential to save many lives. We are thrilled to see that the commercialization is moving forward swiftly.”

Pei has been recognized by the university for his research in this area. He was named the 2017 Innovator of the Year.

“We don’t do research for the awards but it’s nice to know people do appreciate what we are doing,” Pei said. “It’s impossible to pull off what we have done without the full support of the university.”