Just months later, Kane has returned to the Triangle’s biotech scene with a new company and $40 million in financing.
The new venture, Tune Therapeutics, will focus on “epigenetics” and attempt to create new therapies for cancers and genetic diseases. The company is based on intellectual property out of Duke University — where Kane got his MBA — and will set up offices in downtown Durham and Seattle.
Gene editing has become a hot field in biotech, and especially in the Triangle where a raft of gene therapy companies have set up shop in the past five years.
Epigenetics is a different take on gene therapy, however. The epigenome is not part of the genome, rather it is the chemical compounds that tell DNA what to do.
While gene editing involves altering DNA sequences to treat diseases and mutations, epigenomic therapies do not attempt to break or rearrange DNA. Instead, they work on “tuning” how the genes express themselves, Kane said.
It’s still a relatively young field. While gene editing has exploded, there still aren’t many firms working in epigenetic therapies. One firm, Chroma Medicine, recently raised $125 million from investors, Fierce Biotech reported.
Kane is founding the company with Duke professor Charles Gersbach, whose lab has focused extensively on the epigenome. Gersbach is also the co-founder of another Triangle biotech company, Locus Biosciences.
“There’s ways to modify the epigenome, so that you can turn on or off, or dial up or dial down, expression of different genes,” Kane said in a phone interview. “And since we’re not directly breaking the DNA sequences or removing chunks of the DNA sequence, or inserting large sequences, we don’t have to worry about off target changes or maybe creating other problems permanently with the DNA sequence.”
Kane said he believes this approach could allow firms to create broader therapies than many gene-editing companies, which often focus on rare genetic diseases.
“Being able to dial up and down different genes at the same time potentially enables us to really expand the reach of genetic medicine,” he said, “away from not just these ultra rare diseases that the field is mostly focused on, but actually get into the more complex and common diseases that most of us will ultimately encounter if we live long enough.”
Kane said the company has selected its near-term pipeline for potential diseases it will target. But it has not yet revealed them.
The initial $40 million in funding is coming from one local investor, Durham-based Hatteras Venture Partners, and several other companies, including the Emerson Collective, an organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
The money has “already enabled us to attract an incredible team,” Kane said. “With so many companies being launched, you often have these fairly thin teams from an experience perspective. But we’ve been able to attract an incredible initial team with the financing.”
Tune will set up its offices in the BioLabs space in downtown Durham. BioLabs offers flexible office space to young biotech companies.
Kane said when he initially moved to Durham in 2004 to attend Duke, nobody could envision downtown Durham becoming a hub for biotech startups. Precision Biosciences still maintains a large office in downtown.
“It was rough days, and we’ve definitely seen a huge rebirth,” he said. “It’s been awesome to be a part of that over the last 16 years or so. And ... (Tune) is a massive opportunity for not just the area but for expanding the treatment of disease broadly.”
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate