Biotech startup Eclipse Bio emerges to shed light on RNA-based drug research

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The pipeline of potential RNA-based drugs continues to grow, following a trail blazed by Covid-19 messenger RNA vaccines that validated these molecules as a therapeutic modality. Eclipsebio is part of this new domain, but not in the same way as the others. In academic and industrial labs, scientists are trying to find the best ways to drug RNA or use it as medicine. Eclipse Bioinnovations provides information that guides this research.

Eclipsebio has commercialized technology that creates RNA maps detailing how the molecule interacts with the proteins that bind to it. The company has found traction with smaller biotech companies as well as pharmaceutical giants. On Tuesday, the San Diego-based startup announced $14 million in Series A funding to support its growth.

Eclipsebio was co-founded by Gene Yeo, a University of California San Diego professor whose research had previously led to the launch of other biotech startups. Yeo is an expert in RNA, and the technology that forms the basis of Eclipsebio began with RNA research in his UCSD lab. This technology, called eCLIP, identifies the binding sites of RNA-binding proteins. In 2016, Yeo and colleagues published an article in Nature Methods describing the use of eCLIP in over 100 experiments spanning a range of RNA-binding proteins. Eclipsebio CEO Peter Chu said that after this article appeared, other scientists contacted Yeo.

“Gene Yeo’s lab was inundated with requests to do eCLIP [analysis]“, Chu said. “They just couldn’t handle it. That was the genesis of the business.

Yeo formed Eclipsebio in 2017. At two previous companies he co-founded, Enzerna and Locanabio, the focus is on developing therapies that use or target RNA. Eclipsebio does not develop RNA-based drugs, but the startup helps companies that do. In order to develop a drug that targets an RNA-binding protein, scientists need to better understand the structure of RNA and where a protein binds to it. Chu, a Biogen veteran, said Eclipsebio’s technologies provide this insight into RNA, a complicated molecule that hasn’t been studied as a drug target for a very long time.

Eclipsebio acts as a service provider to companies or academic laboratories. The question they may want to answer is how a particular protein binds to RNA in a cell type of interest. Customers send the cells to Eclipsebio and give the company information on antibodies that can bind to the RNA-binding protein of interest. Chu’s team performs data processing, sequencing and analysis. The final product provided to the client is a complete set of data.

“It’s a relatively new field and it’s going to places no one has seen before,” Chu said. “The tools are there at the academic level. These are advanced RNA technologies that are not commercially available as a service.

In addition to eCLIP, Eclipsebio also offers analysis with a technology called SHAPE, which examines the structure of RNA to find pockets where small molecules can bind. This idea can help scientists determine which places on RNA they should target with a drug.

Chu said Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Genentech were among Eclipsebio’s first customers, helping validate the startup’s approach. The company has since added other life science industry customers, although Chu said he could not disclose them. Academic users include Harvard University, Stanford University, and New York University.

Eclipsebio’s initial research was supported by $4.5 million from multiple grants. The company also closed two prior funding rounds whose total dollar value remains undisclosed. With the new funding, Chu said Eclipsebio will develop additional technologies. For example, in the case of mRNA vaccine research, scientists want to understand if a protein is being translated. Chu said Eclipsebio will invest in the development of this technology. The company will also strengthen its sales team. Eclipsebio currently employs 30 people. Chu plans to add 10 to 15 additional employees over the next 18 months.

The Series A round was co-led by Alexandria Venture Investments and iGlobe. Other participants in the funding were Photon Venture Alpha and Phoenix Venture Partners.

mRNA Image by Royalty Free, Getty Images

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