Brad J. Schmier earned his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Miami specializing in RNA degradation. After completing his PhD, Dr. Schmier was a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York studying RNA/DNA repair after ionizing radiation damage. Most recently, Dr. Schmier founded Cymba X, an investment and development vehicle that seeks to enable real world applications of cutting edge biological technology.
With the recent IPO of Moderna Therapeutics, Inc, RNA research has been in the media. Moderna’s IPO was the largest biotech IPO of all time, and the stock has soared more than 50% from its initial IPO price based on the promise of the RNA platform.
Dr. Schmier recently sat down with Sick Economics to tell us about messenger RNA, exciting developments in the field of messenger RNA therapeutics, and Cymba X.
Q: In layman’s terms, could you describe what messenger RNA is, and why it’s important in the human body?
A: Messenger RNA is a large, repetitive molecule (a polymer) closely related to DNA, the template from which it is copied. In cells, the information of a gene (DNA) is carried by the disposable messenger RNA to the ribosome, the cellular production factory for proteins—the remarkable (nano)machines that do the complex work of the cell and thus of all known life. Without the expression of a DNA gene in the form of messenger RNA, the amazing activities of all known life such as the development of a child to the formation of memory to the construction of a rainforest would cease. Human life is no exception.
Q: As a scientist, what are some of most exciting new treatments related to mRNA that are in clinical testing?
A: The breadth and diversity of mRNA therapies that have entered clinical trials is astounding and a reflection of the flexibility and rapid scalability of the technology. I am particularly excited about prophylactic vaccines for viruses such as Zika, Rabies, and Influenza and also personalized cancer vaccines such as that against pancreatic cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Q: If you had a crystal ball, how might you see the field evolving over the next ten years?
A: I suspect there will be incredible innovations in the chemical modifications of the mRNA itself and also of the chemistry and manufacturing of its delivery vehicle (for example, lipid nanoparticles).
Computer-aided design of the mRNA is another exciting area as is the use of robotics in the RNA production facilities. This can be appreciated by imagining cases like personalized mRNA cancer therapies that need to be rapidly designed (based on information received from a patient’s tumor), produced, and shipped back to the clinic.
A: Cymba X focuses on three specific areas of investment and development in either public or private companies, including those at conception.
- DNA/RNA Detection and Sequencing
- Cells as Factories, DNA/RNA Synthesis, and Design
- DNA/RNA Therapeutics and Vaccine
Q: How does Cymba X’s approach differ as opposed to say, your typical biotech mutual fund?
A: Cymba X focuses on converting fundamental advances in biological science and technology into either stand-alone companies or strategic, multi-decade investments. We are deeply committed to scientific education as an essential asset of fundamentally important long-term technology investing and true value-creation for both our partners and society at large.
We are willing to take risk during periods of great uncertainty and will only invest when projects or technologies are priced fairly or at a discount to intrinsic value, thus preserving a wide margin of safety.