SEED INVESTMENT IN ALIA THERAPEUTICS, THE FIRST ITALIAN GENE EDITING COMPANY
Milan, April 8nd, 2019 – BiovelocITA, the first Italian accelerator dedicated to biotech promoted by Sofinnova Partners, and Trentino Invest, a mixed private and public investment company, enter the share capital of Alia Therapeutics S.r.l. thus creating the first Italian biotech focused on the therapeutic use of gene editing.
The new partners provide a seed investment of € 1.3 Mi with BiovelocITA investing € 1.1 Mi and Trentino Invest 250K€. The scientific founders and the University of Trento confer or license to Alia three novel patent applications which were generated at CIBIO-Department of Cellular, Computational and Integrative Biology of the University of Trento.
CRISPR-Cas9 is an editing system that can be imagined as a very tiny DNA bistoury (the Cas9 protein), accompanied by a small sequence of RNA (telling which DNA the Cas9 should cut) that can be used to edit the genomic information contained in a single cell. With very simple laboratory equipment, researchers can produce Cas9 complexed to a guide RNA of choice to direct the bistoury only to a mutated gene of a cell. Once the DNA is cut, researchers use the cell's own DNA repair machinery to delete pieces of genetic material, or to replace an existing segment with a customized DNA sequence. This principle has been used to correct the genes of animals and it will soon be possible to correct the genetic defect of a patient carrying a severe genetic disease.
One mayor concern and a potential pitfall of the technology is its safety. Cas9 is not perfect and sometimes makes mistakes, editing also sequences that should not be edited. In the last two years, the group of molecular virology led by Prof. Anna Cereseto at CIBIO, published three important papers describing improvements to the safety and efficiency of the technology. The more relevant was the publication in Nature Biotechnology in January 2018 that described a set of novel and highly specific variants of Cas9, (“A highly specific SpCas9 variant is identified by in vivo screening in yeast”, Nature Biotechnology”, https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4066) that are more precise, with higher on-target activity (cleavage of the bad sequences) and a reduced off-target activity.
The patent supporting this discovery, together with other two patents that optimize the delivery of Cas9 to target cells, are now in the portfolio of Alia Therapeutics, whose mission will be to discover and develop new gene editing solutions to fight rare genetic diseases.
“In Italy the research against genetic diseases is extremely advanced and BiovelocITA has a clear strategic interest in the area. CIBIO is housing cutting-edge researchers who developed proprietary know how in gene editing with potential applications in several pathologies. On this ground BiovelocITA has decided to invest in Alia Therapeutics: with capitals and managerial expertise we aim to grow Alia into a leading, successful company” commented Gabriella Camboni, CEO of BiovelocITA
“We aim to advance gene editing into a new era thanks to our studies. We always wished to remain protagonists of their industrial exploitation and now we have finally this opportunity thanks to BiovelocITA and Trentino Invest: our start-up company can now become fully operative. We wish to thank the University of Trento and the local regional government for the continuous support” added Anna Cereseto.
Alia Therapeutics is a spin-off company of CIBIO-Department of Cellular, Computational and Integrative Biology of the University of Trento. Alia is fully dedicated to the discovery and development of therapeutics based on new gene editing strategies. Alia relies on the know-how of its founders and on the patent portfolio developed at CIBIO in the laboratory led by Prof. Anna Cereseto, founder and group leader of molecular virology group. Alia founders discovered a new family of “high precision” Cas9-enzymes through a yeast-based screening, named evo-Cas9.. Alia has a non-exclusive license on the patent of evo-Cas9, which shares with Intellia Therapeutics. Further to founders, Alia is participated by BiovelocITA and Trentino Invest and has 1.3 Mi€ seed capital.
BiovelocITA S.r.l. is the first Italian accelerator dedicated to biotech. It was founded by Silvano Spinelli, Gabriella Camboni and Sofinnova Partners. Thanks to BiovelocITA, entrepreneurs, scientists and investors can work together to accelerate biotech projects with an international scope and reach the “proof of concept” that precedes the clinical phase. Set up to offer innovative solutions to the medical community and to patients, BiovelocITA supports the creation and development of innovative biotech companies in all therapeutic areas. (www.biovelocita.com)
Trentino Invest is a private company participated by public and private shareholders, dedicated to investing in innovative industrial projects with a potential significant impact in biomedicine, biotechnology, material sciences and agri-food
CIBIO – University of Trento
The Department of Cellular, Computational and Integrative Biology (CIBIO) is a cutting-edge academic biomedical research institute within the University of Trento in Italy. CIBIO is currently at the top of the Italian state university ranking for quality of research in Biological Sciences, bringing together 40 talented faculty members who are committed to the understanding of fundamental biological processes in health and disease and the development of therapies through a variety of integrated multidisciplinary basic and translational approaches. CIBIO's infrastructure provides state-of-the-art Core Facilities for internal and external academic users as well as for spin-off projects and private corporations.
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