By Matthew Willett
Message Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s focus on mRNA-protein interactions has promise, the company said, to produce therapeutics over a wide range of disease areas.
Founded in 1997, Message raised $8.7 million in its Series A round. Its staff totals 35 at the company's Malvern, Pa., headquarters.
Its technology, SCRIBE (specific control of RNA interaction and binding events), allows Message's scientists to create small molecules that up- or down-regulate protein expression.
Tony Giordano, now vice president in charge of research at Message, first found his interest in RNA manipulation at Abbott Pharmaceuticals, of Abbott Park, Ill.
"I've been interested in post-transcriptional gene regulation for a long time, and at Abbott I decided I couldn't do that kind of work at a large company," Giordano told BioWorld Today.
So Giordano went to Symphony Pharmaceuticals, also of Malvern. In 1997, a reorganization and a merger later, Message was born.
"We currently have five screening programs online, screening small molecules and looking for molecules that disrupt RNA-protein interactions," he said. "The first is TNF-alpha. We screened small molecules and found a molecule that inhibits, with some selectivity, TNF-alpha at the level of transcription."
Message also has identified small molecules that show promise in regulating HER-2, RNase p, APP (amyloid precursor protein), and one that could disrupt HIV replication.
Further, the company now has collaborations with Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, of Ingelheim, Germany, and Aventis Pharma AG, of Frankfurt, Germany, a deal entered into recently.
"In the Aventis deal they've given us some genes," he said, "We'll tell them whether they can be regulated at the post-transcriptional level."
The utility of the small-molecule therapeutic, he said, is what his company is exploiting.
"We can increase or decrease protein expression, and where we want to come in is on targets we know are validated," Giordano said. "TNF-alpha and HER-2 have antibodies on the market, but they're large molecules that require injection to lower protein function. If we can do that with a small molecule, that's great.
"Our business model is to have a very broad platform," he continued. "We believe that, in essence, every therapeutic area with a gene target can be regulated at the post-transcriptional level. We're trying to find corporate partners for programs, not only to provide them with small molecules, but also with screens for their molecules. In some ways, with all the programs, we're looking to partner them out."
Three of the five pipeline programs, he said, likely will move into preclinical testing this year. The HER-2, RNase p and APP programs are prime candidates for preclinical advancement, he said.
Further, Message is aiming to raise money this summer.
"The company has gone through a Series A financing where we raised $8.7 million through a group of five investors, and we're currently going out and raising the second round of financing," Giordano said. "We hope that closing will occur sometime this summer."
The future for Message, as for many post-genomics era companies, will be in the genome sequence.
"My view is that with the sequencing of the genome there are now fewer genes than were thought. In all likelihood, that's because genes give rise to many transcripts, and in the future that's one area the company really wants to move into," Giordano concluded. "With all the gene targets out there this technology enables us to rapidly set up screens and regulating targets that will allow us to find small molecules against targets that can up- or down-regulate protein expression. Transcriptional gene expression we've shown can find molecules against mammalian genes, viral genes and bacterial genes. It's a very broadly applicable technology." n