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Amgen-backed Kernal Biologics Closes $25M A round for mRNA platform



July 7, 2022, Fierce Biotech, by Gabrielle Masson - Kernal Biologics has closed $25 million A round financing to advance its oncology messenger RNA (mRNA) tech, with backing from Big Pharma Amgen—and a former Bristol Myers Squibb leader joining the biotech’s exec team.


The series A financing round was led by Hummingbird Ventures, a global capital fund that manages more than $500 million in assets, with participation from Amgen Ventures—an active investor in emerging biotechs, with recent investments including ReCode Therapeutics, Celsius Therapeutics, and Code Biotherapeutics. Other participants in Kernal’s series A include HBM Genomics, Civilization Ventures and others.


The biotech has snagged Manfred Kraus, Ph.D., as vice president of research and development. Kraus comes from Big Pharma BMS, where he served as scientific senior director at the Tumor Microenvironment Thematic Research Center. Prior to BMS, Kraus directed Pfizer's Oncology Research Unit, and also has experience working in the oncology departments at AstraZeneca, Merck & Co., and Serono.


The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech aims to take mRNA beyond COVID-19 and vaccines with its in-development mRNA platform, dubbed mRNA 2.0. The therapeutic focus will be treating cancer patients with as few side effects as possible.


"Kernal Bio is building on the success stories of Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech with legacy mRNA technologies,” said Firat Ileri, managing partner of Hummingbird Ventures, who also joined Kernal’s board in tandem with the funding round.


The $25 million financing will go toward extending the platform and support the filing of an application that would allow Kernal to begin testing immuno-oncology candidate KR-335 in humans.


So how does it work? In COVID-19 vaccines, mRNA targets antigens that are expressed by healthy cells as well as diseased cells. The mRNA 2.0 platform has greater selectivity, allowing Kernal to develop treatments whose potency can be dialed up without harming healthy tissues. The company’s tech exploits a flaw in the armor of cancer cells, provided by their ribosomes, which are little molecular machines that read messages from mRNA.


The message induces cell death, and can also train the immune system to recognize what those cancer cells look like to fend off relapse or recurrence in the future.


New Kernal leader Kraus will help expand the mRNA platform and advance lead program KR-335. He will also oversee the expansion of the biotech’s R&D team and the potential advancement of therapeutic programs into the clinic.


Another part of mRNA 2.0, at least for Kernal, is sending it into space. The company participated in an experiment that sent mRNA tech to the International Space Station in October 2020 to undergo tests in microgravity.


CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 7, 2022 / PRNewswire - Kernal Biologics, Inc. (Kernal Bio) — a development-stage mRNA-technology company developing cancer therapeutics designed to improve patients' survival rate and quality of life — today announced the completion of a $25 million Series A financing led by Hummingbird Ventures. Amgen Ventures, HBM Genomics and Civilization Ventures along with other VCs, family offices and high net worth individuals also participated in the round.


The new capital will extend Kernal's mRNA 2.0 platform and support the filing of an IND for Kernal's immuno-oncology candidate KR-335. In connection with the financing, Firat Ileri, Managing Partner of Hummingbird Ventures joins the board.


"We have closely followed the work of the Kernal Bio team over the past few years and we are excited to see them bring their mRNA technology to fruition in an area of medicine with high unmet medical need," said Firat Ileri, Managing Partner of Hummingbird Ventures. "Kernal Bio is building on the success stories of Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech with legacy mRNA technologies. We are delighted to partner with them to bring this innovative approach to cancer patients."


"There's a major unmet need to improve outcomes for cancer patients and Kernal Bio has built a strong rational for the use of its novel mRNA technology in cancer therapeutics," said Kernal Bio Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Yusuf Erkul, M.D. "This financing further validates that rational. Our breakthrough onco-selective mRNA approach can enable specific protein expression in malignant cells, widening the therapeutic window of mRNAs in oncology."


Additionally, Manfred Kraus Ph.D., who was previously the Scientific Senior Director at the Tumor Microenvironment Thematic Research Center at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), joins the company as Vice President of Research and Development. Before BMS, Dr. Kraus was a Director at Pfizer's Oncology Research Unit where he led the in vivo pharmacology teams supporting the oncology portfolio from new target identification to clinical proof of concept. Previously, he worked in the oncology departments at Astra-Zeneca, Merck & Co., and Serono.


Dr. Kraus earned his Ph.D. in immunology with Dr. Klaus Rajewsky at the University of Cologne in Germany, followed by post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School investigating the role of B cell receptor signaling in mature B lymphocytes. His scientific accomplishments include the discovery of the tonic BCR-mediated survival signal in mature B cells. Dr. Kraus pushed our understanding of the role of ITAM and non-ITAM phosphorylation in the CD79a/b signaling subunit of the B cell receptor plus advanced and mentored technical innovation such as conditional gene-targeting, reversible RNAi in mice and multi-parametric flow cytometry. He is an author on 27 peer-reviewed articles and an inventor on four patents.


"We are thrilled to have Dr. Kraus join Kernal as he brings extensive drug development experience in oncology which will help us to expand our mRNA 2.0 platform and advance our lead program. Dr. Kraus will oversee the expansion of our R&D team as well as the advancement of our therapeutic programs into the clinic," said Burak Yilmaz, M.S., Co-founder and President of Kernal Bio.


More about Kernal Bio mRNA 2.0 Platform


Kernal Bio established a machine learning-backed computational pipeline to analyze transcriptome and translatome datasets across cell types and disease state to discover cell-specific mRNA sequence features. These features are then deployed during synthetic mRNA design to enable cell-specific therapeutic mRNAs. The first therapeutic products of the mRNA 2.0 platform, including KR-335, initially focus on immuno-oncology.


Note: FoundersX Ventures is proud to be an early investor in Kernal Bio.


More about Kernal Bio