Biotech startup aims to eradicate CAD with gene editing

A new biotech company out of Massachusetts is levering human genetics and genome editing to “turn the tide” of coronary artery disease (CAD), experimenting with CRISPR to stop CAD from ever developing in at-risk individuals.

Verve Therapeutics announced its launch May 7 after closing a $58.5 million Series A funding round led by Alphabet’s GV (formerly Google Ventures). In a statement, the company said it was created “to protect the world from heart disease” by merging two of the 21st century’s biggest biotech breakthroughs—human genetic analysis and gene editing—to provide lifelong protection against CAD.

Sekar Kathiresan, MD, a preventive cardiologist and Verve’s incoming CEO, will step away from positions at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School to lead the company. Starting in July he’ll serve alongside other experts, including Verve’s newly appointed president and COO Andrew Ashe, a biotech executive, on the company’s board of directors.

“Coronary artery disease is a true pandemic and a growing health crisis,” Kathiresan, also a co-founder of Verve, said in the statement. “Our genetic understanding of coronary artery disease, combined with increasing sophistication of gene editing technologies, have aligned to create a transformative moment in the treatment of this disease. Verve was founded to turn the tide of coronary artery disease worldwide. Gene editing offers the possibility of introducing protective gene variants to adults at risk of the disease through a one-time therapy.”

Verve will funnel initial funding from GV, ARCH Venture Partners, F-Prime Capital and Biomatics Capital into proof-of-concept studies that will be used to advance preclinical programs. The company has developed a portfolio of gene editing technologies—including CRISPR patents, license agreements with Harvard and the Broad Institute and a partnership with Verily to develop and optimize nanoparticle formulations—which its founding team will use to build on existing research suggesting certain naturally occurring gene variants can dramatically lower a person’s lifetime risk of CAD and MI.

According to the company’s release, all of Verve’s technologies will involve making edits in somatic cells, which aren’t passed down genetically.

A new approach to CAD treatment would especially benefit patients with poor access to current therapies like daily pills or monthly injections, Verve said. More than 80% of CAD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, where individuals face numerous barriers to quality medical care.

“The current treatment model...must evolve if we are to effectively protect millions of people from disability or death due to coronary artery disease,” said Burt Adelman, MD, co-founder and chairman of the board at Verve, in the release. “Imagine if a single injection could permanently and safely prevent coronary artery disease. That’s the singular goal that Verve will be pursuing.”

Verve also announced it will collaborate with Beam Therapeutics, another Cambridge-based company, to receive exclusive access to Beam’s base editing, gene editing and delivery technologies for human therapeutic applications against certain CV targets. After Phase I studies are completed, Beam will have the option to continue working with Verve and claim 50% of U.S. profits and losses for any products related to the tech.

According to the statement, Kathiresan and his team will first focus on treating patients with life-threatening CAD whose medical needs aren’t being met. Once Verve can establish safety and efficacy, it will expand clinical research to larger populations of people at risk for the disease.