December 3, 2021

Tune Therapeutics Debuts with $40 Million to Fine-Tune the Human Genome

A new biotech startup with operations in Seattle and Durham, N.C., has launched with $40 million in new funding and a leadership team peppered with veterans of Seattle cell therapy biotechs.

Tune Therapeutics is deploying technology to fine-tune the activity of genes in cells. The company has developed a proprietary platform called TEMPO that operates as an epigenomic therapy, according to a statement. Epigenomics is a broad term typically applied to the machinery in cells that organizes how DNA is packaged, which affects gene activity.

Genetic diseases, cancers, and other conditions can result when gene activity is too high or low. TEMPO can “locate” epigenomic elements involved in disease, and it can tune the activity of genes or gene networks. 

The company aims to take its tools “from proof of concept in rare, single-gene disorders to common conditions that aren’t linked to a single gene mutation – but are treatable through epigenomic control,” said Charles Gersbach, acting chief scientific officer and biomedical engineering professor at Duke University, in a statement.

Gersbach co-founded the company with president and CFO Akira Matsuno and Fyodor Urnov, chair of the scientific advisory board. Urnov is a professor of genetics, genomics, and development at the University of California, Berkeley and previously led discovery and translational research at Sangamo Therapeutics.

Matsuno is formerly head of corporate development at Lyell Immunopharma, a gene and cell therapy company with a presence in Seattle that went public this year. He is also a former program lead at Seattle’s flagship cell therapy biotech, Juno Therapeutics, which was acquired by Celgene in a multibillion dollar deal in 2018.

Two other Juno veterans help round out the team, head of technical operations Heidi Zhang and head of research Blythe Sather. Sather also was previously senior director of T cell engineering at Lyell.

Tune is helmed by CEO and director Matt Kane, previously co-founder and CEO of gene and cell therapy company Precision BioSciences, which went public in 2019.

A company spokesperson told GeekWire that its TEMPO platform has two distinct modules. A targeting module binds to target DNA sequences, and effector module dials the activity of genes up or down by acting on epigenetic marks. These molecular marks are involved in packaging up DNA, for instance determining if it is tightly or loosely wound up, which affects gene activity.

By varying the target and effector modules in an iterative process, the platform can fine tune gene expression in diseased or exhausted cells.

Recent publications by Gersbach’s research team have focused on advancing a commonly-used epigenome editing approach. This approach involves delivering a two-component protein to cells: one component (dCas9) binds to target DNA sequences, and a second modulates epigenetic marks.

In one recent study, Gersbach’s group at Duke used this approach to activate a gene in stem cells in culture. His group has also delivered a similar system to the livers of mice to silence a gene involved in regulating cholesterol. Tune will maintain ongoing collaborations with Duke University to advance its platform.

The biotech’s emergence builds on long running efforts by biotech and pharma to target the epigenome. Another epigenomics company, Chroma, also launched this November, with $125 million in funding. Tune currently has 35 employees and is advertising for positions in both Seattle and Durham.

Co-lead investors for the Series A round were New Enterprise Associates and Emerson Collective, with participation from Hatteras Venture Partners, Mission BioCapital, and others.