Moma Therapeutics Going after the ATPase class of enzymes

CEO: Asit Parikh

Based: Brighton, Massachusetts

Founded: 2020

Clinical focus: Precision oncology, synthetic lethality and cancer dependency

The scoop: A clutch of successful and effective drugs including Vertex’s Kalydeco target the ATPase class of enzymes, which are involved in intracellular energy transfer. Yet despite the successes, biopharma companies haven’t systematically gone after the enzymes, which include integral cell membrane proteins, limiting themselves to one-off projects, serendipitous discoveries, and the repurposing of natural products. Moma Therapeutics, in contrast, is going all-in on building a pipeline around the proteins. 

What makes fierce: Moma’s focus on ATPases doesn’t reflect a belief there are quick, easy wins in the enzyme class. Quite the opposite. Moma is focused squarely on the proteins in the belief that total immersion in the science of ATPases is needed to rise to the challenges posed by the hard targets.

“We’re not drugging kinases here where there’s a very clear recipe book or toolbox. It’s a much bigger problem. It’s a harder problem,” said Peter Hammerman, chief scientific officer at Moma. “These are proteins that exist throughout work cycles in a cell that adopt multiple confirmations, bind to multiple other entities. So the complexity of developing pharmacology against ATPases is likely an order of magnitude or so different from kinases or GPCRs (G protein-coupled receptors).”

Hammerman left Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research, where he headed oncology translational research, to join Moma because he believed the obstacles could be overcome with the current state of technology and the work could yield important medicines.

Moma is targeting the molecular machines that underlie human disease. Its ATPase focus is possible because of new ways of doing high throughput drug screening, the use of AI and machine learning, and advances in structural annotation that have empowered small biotechs to use cryogenic electron microscopy to determine crystal structures.

Using the platform, Moma has established five programs running in parallel. Moma hopes to move one program into the lead in the coming months, followed by a couple of others next year. If all goes well, Moma could be in the clinic in 2023, although that target is speculative at this stage.

As Moma advances the drug candidates, it expects to acquire knowledge about how to drug ATPases that makes it a little easier to go after subsequent targets. Moma is supporting the generation of a knowledge base through research with no direct therapeutic applications.

“There may be a particular protein in this class that we actually are not directly interested in drugging, but studying it can still give us insights that help us make the jump from one protein in the class to another protein in the class because it’s sort of an intermediary there. Over time, the goal is to unlock the class as a whole,” said Moma CEO Asit Parikh.

Moma’s 50-person team is currently working out of a sublet facility on the outskirts of Boston. In April, Moma plans to move into a custom-built space in Cambridge that will serve as the permanent base for its effort to systematically unlock the therapeutic potential of ATPases.

Investors: Casdin Capital, Cormorant Asset Management, Creacion Ventures, Nextech Invest, Rock Springs Capital and Third Rock Ventures.