HAYA’s Journey: From Dinosaurs to Torrey Pines

February 15, 2022

The year is 1993. My mother has taken me to watch a new blockbuster movie by Steven Spielberg that is taking the world by storm -- Jurassic Park. As most people know, the film is based on the ability of scientists to bring back dinosaurs by extracting prehistoric DNA from mosquitoes, then using DNA from frogs to fill in the gaps of the dinosaur genome. This was my first encounter with the power and potential of molecular biology, sparking a curiosity that ultimately led to the foundation of HAYA Therapeutics.

Today, studying, programming and editing the genome, which can be considered the source code of life, is no longer something we watch on the big screen. Scientists are making breakthroughs at an exponential rate, where we can determine genetic sequences more rapidly and inexpensively than ever before, and utilize novel programmable therapeutics to alter the human genome to halt disease progression and improve patient outcomes.

From my graduate school days at the University of Leicester to my postdoctoral studies at University College London, I’ve learned to appreciate the inner workings of our source code and how novel and enabling RNA-based therapeutic tools can program the information processing features within our genome and potentially give patients genuine preventative and curative medicines. This is why I co-founded HAYA Therapeutics.

HAYA’s approach targets these important information processing features within our source code, long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), for the safer and more effective tissue-specific treatment of fibrotic diseases and other severe medical conditions. We view ourselves as revolutionizing the next generation of RNA-based therapeutics to treat fibrosis, a significant contributor to many of today’s chronic illnesses.

Haya team at work

Now that it has been two years since we launched HAYA, I wanted to provide an update on what we’ve accomplished in just the last few months.

We announced in August the formation of our scientific advisory board, which is comprised of a world-leading team of scientists and researchers in the fields of antisense RNA-targeting therapeutics, regulatory non-coding RNAs, cardiovascular disease and translational drug development. With their guidance, we can accomplish our goal of bringing HAYA’s lead program candidate, an antisense oligonucleotide targeting the lncRNA Wisper -- a cardiac tissue-enriched driver of fibrosis in the heart -- into patients. We aim to initially develop this therapy for non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an orphan indication with no treatment options other than a heart transplant. Ultimately, a Wisper-targeting therapy could target cardiac fibrosis in most patients suffering from heart failure, one of society’s most significant unmet medical needs.

We have now moved into large animal preclinical studies evaluating its safety and have generated promising results. In the next year, we will continue to study the safety and efficacy of this candidate, with the hopes of beginning clinical trials in the next 24-36 months.

As announced last week, we raised an additional US$5 million with a seed extension led by Humboldt Fund, which is a team of bold life science investors who are supporting groundbreaking technologies in many industries, including healthcare. Coupled with our initial round announced in May, our total seed round totals almost US$25 million. I am thankful for the continued support from our investors backing our mission of bringing precise and programmable RNA-therapeutics to the market, starting with heart failure.

We also announced that we are establishing our footprint in the U.S. by becoming a resident at Johnson & Johnson Innovation JLABS @ San Diego. We decided to open a new lab facility at this location because the region is growing substantially in the space of RNA-based biotech and therapeutics. What is most exciting is having the possibility to collaborate with local biotech and pharma companies who will be important in helping us advance our DiscoverHAYA drug discovery engine and provide access to a wonderful talent pool of exceptional scientists in regulatory genomics and RNA-based therapeutics. Furthermore, it will allow us to expand our discovery platform for the identification of additional anti-fibrotic lncRNA targets.

Our headquarters and main facility will remain in Lausanne, Switzerland. As you can tell from our LinkedIn and Twitter updates, we are actively recruiting scientists and other laboratory positions to keep growing our teams in both Lausanne and San Diego.

So what does the future hold for HAYA?

The pandemic has brought to light the importance of rapid innovation in medicine. RNA-based therapeutics have demonstrated how powerful this modality can be, and we are looking forward to pushing the boundaries of this field with our lncRNA-targeting therapies for underserved common and chronic diseases associated with ageing.

As we continue to grow, we look forward to creating an entirely new class of therapeutics and building out our team to help us accelerate this future goal of truly safe, effective and accessible precision therapeutics.

If you want to learn more about HAYA, visit http://www.hayatx.com/. And don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter so you can stay up-to-date with our progress.

-- Samir Ounzain, PhD, Chief Executive Officer & Scientific Co-Founder of HAYA Therapeutics

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