Flagship Pioneering’s Senda Bio secures $123M for brand new ‘programmable medicines’

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Senda Biosciences set out to overcome challenges in drug delivery. Its research has led the startup to nanoparticles, which executives say offer a path to “programmable medicines” that can be directed to specific cells and tissues. The startup now has $123 million to support its research as it looks toward bringing its medicines into clinical testing within the next two years.

The financing announced Tuesday is a Series C round of funding. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Senda says it has raised $266 million to date in what has been a winding road for the startup.

Senda was formed in 2019 by venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering. The startup’s research initially focused on overcoming the challenges of transferring a therapeutic payload across biological barriers. At some point, Flagship decided to combine Senda with Kintai Therapeutics, another startup formed within its labs. Kintai was developing small molecule drugs based on insights into the effects that gut bacteria and their metabolites have on human health.

The new Senda revealed a little more about its changed focus last year when it expanded its Series B financing to $98 million. At the time, CEO Guillaume Pfefer said the biotech’s approach was based on insights into the molecules that move between humans and bacteria. The company coined a term for this new area of research: “intersystems biology.” Senda applied artificial intelligence to analyze the interactions between humans and bacteria, which Pfeffer said provided insight into potential therapeutic approaches.

Senda’s research has since turned to nanoparticles. More specifically, the biotech is interested in natural nanoparticles that have evolved to precisely move biomolecules into human cells. The company’s research has identified many of these nanoparticles, and it has built a map of them. The company claims this “Senda Atlas” now totals nearly 50,000 molecules from four kingdoms of life. AI is still part of Senda’s approach. But the startup now says it is applying its technology to nanoparticles and information molecules, like mRNA. With insights from the atlas, Senda says it can program a nanoparticle for delivery to a particular tissue or cellular type. The mRNA can be programmed to offer a therapeutic intervention upon reaching its destination.

“The enormous therapeutic promise of information molecules, such as mRNA, siRNA, and gene editors—which enable programming within cells of interest—has yet to be realized, owing in part to an inability to program to cells of interest,” Pfefer said in the funding announcement. “Senda’s extensive body of preclinical data in small and large animals, and across a range of disease models, shows that by combining these programmed nanoparticles with information molecules, we can program within and to cells.”

Last year, Senda said it had three programs it expected to advance to the clinic in 2022. Those programs, which spanned cardiovascular conditions, metabolic disease, and cancer, have yet to reach human testing. With the new financing, Senda now says it plans to further refine its technology platform and nominate its first drug candidates. The company expects that it will move those candidates into the clinic in 2024.

Besides Flagship, participants in Senda’s Series C financing include new investors the Samsung Life Science Fund, Quatar Investment Authority, Bluwave Capital, and Stage 1 Ventures. Earlier investors that returned for the latest round include Alexandria Venture Investments, Longevity Vision Fund, Mayo Clinic, Partners Investment, and the State of Michigan Retirement System.

Photo: Larry Washburn, Getty Images

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