Nearly a year ago, 20-year Alnylam Pharmaceuticals veteran Akin Akinc took the reins at Aera Therapeutics, one of the most exciting startups in genomic medicine. Recently, we sat down with Akin to learn more about him joining Aera after being recruited by the company’s esteemed scientific founder, Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. After a series of intriguing conversations, Akin recalls, “I realized this was an exciting opportunity I could not pass up."
Our life sciences team shares Akin's zeal for Aera Therapeutics, which launched earlier this year with $193 million in financing co-led by GV. The initial spark for the company was a groundbreaking August 2021 paper in Science by Feng Zhang and colleagues, demonstrating essential proof-of-concept that systems can be engineered to be therapeutic delivery vehicles.
Aera used these early discoveries to create the company's foundation: a proprietary protein nanoparticle (PNP) delivery platform designed to surpass today's delivery technologies and expand the reach of genetic medicines to new applications and tissues within the human body. The long-term hope is that Aera can better deliver genetic medicines to the correct tissues to have an even more significant impact on the treatment of disease.
Our conversation with Akin centered on two themes: his advice for early-stage biotech CEOs about the building blocks necessary to start a transformative life sciences company and the scientific approach that sets Aera Therapeutics apart.
As a first-time biotech CEO, Akin offers several astute observations. First, focus on a problem that truly matters: the delivery of genetic medicines can profoundly impact patient outcomes and lives. Second, surround yourself with seasoned board members who have built companies successfully, and especially partner with scientific founders who, like Feng, have a knack for knowing where the science is headed.
At GV, we believe the advent of genetic medicines holds enormous potential that can lead to cures. Today, one industry challenge is delivering genetic treatments to the right tissues and cell types, impacting specific diseases long-term. This is one of the critical areas Aera is researching, and in our conversation, we explored the underpinnings of Aera's state-of-the-art science.
"As I reflect on the last 10-15 years, new therapeutic modalities have exploded,” says Akin. “But if we look at the field, the pace of advancement of delivery technologies has not kept up with the pace. That's been a limitation on the broad applications of genetic medicines — we're a long way from reaching the full potential. We need more strategies and approaches, and that's what Aera's all about."
Watch the full conversation above.