In the first of two features on CircNova, CEO Crystal Brown and CSO Joe DeAngelo recount the spark behind the formation of the company and its mission to enable the development of therapeutics for major unmet clinical needs. The second feature will discuss thinking behind CircNova’s technology.
Companies to Watch – CircNova
by Marie Daghlian
Circular RNA and non-coding RNA are at the heart of the new biotech startup CircNova, a company with a mission and platform to enable the drugging of previously undruggable targets for major unmet clinical needs.
The company aims to leverage AI to generate, analyze, and identify non-coding circular RNA for therapeutic development. “Circular RNA has been around for a long time, and it’s funny because both circular RNA and non-coding RNA for a long time, people just considered them to be junk,” says Joe DeAngelo, chief scientific officer and a co-founder of CircNova. “And I’ve learned over the years that if anybody thinks something is junk, it’s probably really interesting because it means we don’t know what it really does. And biology is very efficient. It really doesn’t have junk. If it’s there, it’s there for a reason.”
A molecular biologist with expertise in synthetic biology who has helped start many companies, DeAngelo presented the idea of pursuing development of a non-coding circular RNA platform to Crystal Brown, a seasoned executive who had started in the automotive industry but switched to biotech to follow her passion for creating and delivering solutions that could improve the lives of patients.
Brown was intrigued with the idea to harness the power of AI and biotechnology to discover and develop novel circular RNAs that can modulate gene expression and treat diseases. After thorough research into the technology and its numerous applications, Brown and DeAngelo, along with Shrikant Savant, an expert in generative AI, founded CircNova to develop an AI enabled platform for circRNA therapeutics.
“We are a pure startup at this point, totally virtual and raising our first round. So basically, we have our business plan, our concepts all lined out,” says DeAngelo. “We’ve got conceptual IP in terms of provisional patents, but no lab space yet.”
Circular RNA is an emerging frontier in RNA therapeutics, with most companies developing circRNAs still in the preclinical stage of development, and minimal resources and references to draw on in the development process.
CircNova is developing its NovaEngine platform to generate RNA structures that enable AI-generated design of RNA with specific activities using proprietary methods to produce, test, stabilize, validate, and deliver circRNA with druggable features.
“The biggest challenge will be to strategically select and prioritize targets that will advance our platform and generate circRNAs,” says Brown. “This actually positions CircNova as a premiere partner for researchers and developers. We collaborate with research partners and drug developers to innovate in a wide open space that is ripe for innovation.”
What’s interesting is that the science behind the company doesn’t come from an academic lab, but has generated a lot of interest from academics. “What we have found is because there’s a huge interest in the field, a lot of companies are out there talking to academics, and the academics that we’ve talked to so far have come back and said, “We’ve talked to a lot of people and they don’t have anything, and they’re all fishing.” So, they all want to know what we know,” says DeAngelo. “And what’s exciting to them is on the other hand, we’ve come to them and we’ve told them what we know. So, it’s more of a collaboration than a one-sided, “hey, give me what you got” kind of relationship. We therefore have found a significant number of academics that are really interested in working with us.”
Right now, though, the new company has established a foothold in the Boston area and is talking to investors for seed stage funding. “We’ve got a lot of interest right now. To me, it’s like the gold rush. It is a rush of science and technology to a new frontier where there are vast opportunities for discovery to advance medicine and make a major contribution to society. This is such a hot area right now,” says DeAngelo.
Along with fundraising, over the next couple of years, CircNova will focus on training the NovaEngine and generating pilot candidates for research partners and developers.
This is part 1 of the Big4Bio Company to Watch program for September 2023: CircNova
For more information on the series, click here.