Former Spark CEO Marrazzo joins epigenetics startup’s board

Jeff Marrazzo, the biotechnology executive who led Spark Therapeutics to a landmark gene therapy approval in the U.S., is lending his expertise to a drug startup exploring one of the next frontiers in genetic medicine. 

Seven months after departing the Roche-owned Spark, Marrazzo is joining the board of directors of Chroma Medicine, which launched late last year with $125 million in funding. Chroma is one of several biotech startups working to develop new drugs by borrowing from epigenetics, a field of research that studies how gene expression is regulated.

While Chroma has revealed few details about its development plans, it’s drawn attention from a number of high-profile biotech leaders. Marrazzo’s appointment to the board, announced by Chroma Tuesday, follows the addition of John Maraganore, ex-CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, as an adviser and former Celgene business development head George Golumbeski as an independent director.

“Many things [about Chroma] remind me a lot of the early days of Spark,” said Marrazzo, in an interview. 

Founded by a team of experts in gene editing, Chroma is backed by several well-resourced venture investors, including Atlas Venture and Newpath Partners. It’s led by CEO Catherine Stehman-Breen and has grown to about 60 employees, according to its website

The company aims to develop epigenetic editors that can turn genes, or even multiple genes, “on” or “off” without altering the underlying DNA sequence, as gene editing using tools like CRISPR do. 

A photograph of Chroma Medicine CEO Catherine Stehman-Breen

Catherine Stehman-Breen

Permission granted by Chroma Medicine

“If you’re trying to regulate gene expression — either activate or silence a gene or do some kind of complex multiplexing — I think there’s enormous advantage in not changing the sequence of the DNA,” said StehmanBreen, “and instead leveraging an endogenous system that actually truly silences a gene.”

Stehman-Breen said Chroma is not yet ready to disclose what diseases it plans to target, nor how soon it hopes to advance to clinical testing. But she noted the company is taking a “pragmatic” approach to building a drug development platform.

“Our fundamental goal is to validate the technology in the most straightforward manner we can so that we can demonstrate the technology works,” Stehman-Breen said. 

In pursuing epigenetic editing, Chroma is joined by Tune Therapeutics and Epic Bio, which have launched more recently and raised smaller sums. Neither have begun clinical testing of epigenetic-based medicines.

Still, the flurry of activity is notable and builds in part on the work that’s been done by gene therapy developers like Spark, as well as newer gene editing-focused biotechs. 

“The epigenetics field is able to capitalize on a lot of the work that’s been done in the gene editing and gene therapy space,” said Stehman-Breen. “The technology that’s allowed that set of genomic medicines to move forward can be leveraged in moving epigenetics forward.” 

Marrazzo, having guided Spark to the first U.S. approval of a gene therapy for an inherited disease, could help share some of the lessons learned in that work.

“Having a pretty good understanding of both the AAV gene transfer landscape and what you could do with that tool, but also what you couldn’t do with that tool, this [opportunity] was extraordinarily exciting,” said Marrazzo, referring to one type of gene therapy. 

This post has been syndicated from a third-party source. View the original article here.

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