2021-11-17| Funding

Chroma Medicine Debuts with High Hopes for “Game-Changing” Epigenetic Genome Editors

by Rajaneesh K. Gopinath
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Nobel prize-winning CRISPR/Cas9 technology holds great therapeutic potential due to its ability to target and cut specific disease-related genes. However, its tendency to cause unintended off-target mutations has been a significant downside. Scientists have strived to overcome it by devising improvements in technology or even looking for approaches that keep the DNA intact but edit the epigenome, which governs gene expression.

In early April, a new study published in Cell published by the labs of Luke Gibert and Johnathan Weismann described a new CRISPR tool—CRISPRoff, which can turn off genes without making changes to their genetic code. This switch is heritable and is stably passed on to subsequent generations. Besides, it can be reversed by a complementary tool—CRISPRon. The advent of epigenetic editors is considered a game-changer in the field.

Now, a new genomic medicine company called Chroma Medicine, Inc. has launched in Cambridge, MA, to focus on this very technology. The company is supported with a Series A funding of $125 million led by Cormorant Asset Management with participation by Casdin Capital, Janus Henderson, Omega Funds, T. Rowe Price, and Wellington Management. Last year, Atlas Venture and Newpath Partners provided seed funding to Chroma along with participation from Sofinnova Partners.

“Chroma is building a next-generation technology platform of epigenetic editing tools,” said Bihua Chen, CEO and Portfolio Manager at Cormorant Asset Management. “This novel approach has the potential to address not only monogenic disease but also complex diseases involving multiple genes that have long been out of reach of genomic editing. We believe the company is well-positioned to realize the potential of this exciting new technology.”

Related Article: The Game Changer: New CRISPR Tool Can Turn On/Off Genes


Epigenetic Editors

Chroma, which is just a year old, has been perfecting its proprietary technology and forging multiple partnerships, including Massachusetts General Hospital and UCSF. Founded by the world’s foremost experts in genomic research, including Luke Gilbert, Ph.D., Keith Joung, M.D., Ph.D., David Liu, Ph.D., Angelo Lombardo, Ph.D., Luigi Naldini, M.D., Ph.D., and Jonathan Weissman, Ph.D.

Chroma is led by a team of industry leaders and scientists with deep experience in genomic medicine, drug discovery, and development.

Its Board of Directors includes CEO Catherine Stehman-Breen, M.D. and investors Kevin Bitterman, Ph.D., Partner, Atlas Venture, Thomas Cahill, M.D., Ph.D., Managing Partner, Newpath Partners, Bihua Chen, CEO and Portfolio Manager, Cormorant Asset Management, and Paola Pozzi, Partner, Sofinnova Partners.

“Epigenetic editing is the next frontier in genomic medicine with the potential to transform the treatment of genetically driven diseases. By harnessing nature’s innate mechanism to modulate gene expression, we can durably and precisely control gene expression without fundamentally changing or cutting the underlying DNA sequence,” said Dr. Stehman-Breen, M.D., CEO of Chroma, in a statement.

“Supported by world-class founders and investors, the Chroma team is committed to deliver on the promise of this exciting platform.”

Related Article: Moderna Enters Gene Editing Market with Metagenomi Collaboration

According to Chroma, its modular epigenetic editors can be precisely programmed to durably turn genes on or off or alter the expression of several genes at once. “This approach represents a step change advance in gene editing, enabling the company to seamlessly silence, activate, and multiplex genes in a single platform. Chroma’s epigenetic editors have the potential to address a wide range of diseases and to become the technology of choice for gene regulation,” said the company in a statement.

“Epigenetic editing provides fundamental mechanistic advantages over other genomic medicine approaches,” said Vic Myer, Ph.D., President and CSO of Chroma. “First, by mimicking cells’ existing mechanism for regulating gene expression, it enables complete control of the target without activating unpredictable DNA repair pathways. Second, epigenetic editing opens the possibility of pursuing targets in the genome that are difficult to access with other therapeutic approaches, offering hope to patients suffering from serious illnesses.”

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