The Accelerator Corp.is launching Mirina, its first venture into the promising field of microRNA therapies — drugs that treat illness by controlling how genes behave.

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The Accelerator Corp. is launching Mirina, its first venture into the promising field of microRNA therapies — drugs that treat illness by controlling how genes behave.

Former Icos executive David McElligott is head of research at the new firm, which will be housed at Accelerator’s Eastlake headquarters. The firm is being financed by an undisclosed amount provided by Alexandra Real Estate Equities, Amgen Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, OVP Venture Partners and WRF Capital.

Mirina is Accelerator’s ninth venture, and the first in which it has licensed technology from a publicly traded biotechnology company — Nanogen, a diagnostics firm based in San Diego.

RNA-interference therapeutics — which fight disease by hindering genes’ expression of harmful proteins, or by encouraging genes to produce beneficial ones — have become one of the hottest sectors in biotechnology.

“It’s really cutting-edge stuff,” McElligott said.

Although research in the field is in early stages, investors and entrepreneurs have flocked to it. Pharmaceutical giant Merck bought Bay Area-based Sirna Therapeutics in late 2006 for $1.1 billion. More recently, Nastech Pharmaceuticals of Bothell said it would abandon its failed intranasal therapy research to focus on its fledging RNAi franchise, changing its name to MDRNA.

Accelerator, a biotech incubator that focuses on early-stage companies, is also testing the waters. Nanogen’s technology — which allows Mirina’s compounds to better target genes — “should confer a significant advantage and differentiation to this effort,” said Accelerator Chief Executive Carl Weissman.

Mirina is also one of a handful of companies to hire alumni of Icos, one of the region’s most successful biotechnology firms.

The Bothell-based company, which produced erectile-dysfunction drug Cialis, laid off most of its personnel in 2007 after it was acquired by Eli Lilly for $2.3 billion, in what many considered a heavy blow to the local biotech industry. But companies such as Calistoga Pharmaceuticals and CisThera of Seattle are led by former Icos employees or are working with technology developed at Icos.

The Accelerator, founded in 2003, has had a good hatching record. Three of the firms created there have moved out and raised money on their own — VLST, Spaltudaq and Allozyne, all based in Seattle.

Danish firm CMC Biopharmaceuticals acquired Icos’ Bothell contract manufacturing operation and rechristened it CMC Icos Biologics, retaining the remaining employees.

Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com