Moderna Therapeutics, a US-based life sciences firm with ties to multiple universities, closes biggest biotech venture capital round in history at $450m.

US-based Moderna Therapeutics has closed the largest venture capital round for a biotech firm in history at $450m – $176.3m more than the second largest.

The company has now secured $950m since its founding in 2011. Investors in the latest round include venture firms Viking Global Investors, Invus, RA Capital Management, and Wellington Management. Existing backers also participated, including pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

The round is the largest biotech venture round in history, according to news provider Dow Jones. The second largest was held in 2003 when Reliant Pharmaceuticals raised $273.7m. The top five include Jazz Pharmaceuticals ($250m), Intrexon ($200m), and Intarcia Therapeutics ($200m). Global University Venturing’s Deal of the Year 2014 winner Juno Therapeutics holds the seventh spot.

Previous rounds into Moderna include two led by Flagship Ventures, one of the co-founders of the firm, for a total of $175m. Other founders include Kenneth Chien from Harvard University and Karolinska Institute, Robert Langer from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Derrick Rossi of Boston Children’s Hospital.

Whether the company is utilising intellectual property from any of the four institutions is currently unclear. However, Massachusetts-based Moderna does have a standing strategic collaboration with Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital (KUH) which it signed in October last year, which states Moderna will construct a new laboratory in Stockholm alongside KUH and conduct its clinical trials there. Moderna also has strategic partnerships signed with AstraZeneca, Alexion, and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

AstraZeneca provided a $240m up-front payment to Moderna in March 2013 to collaborate on drug candidates, while Alexion invested $100m into the company during January 2014 to purchase 10 product options from the biotech. DARPA backed the company with a $25m grant in October 2013. At present, the company is in active development of 45 preclinical programmes, has 320 patent applications out to cover its range of intellectual property.

The latest round of funding will be used to accelerate drug discovery and development into messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutics. The head-turning technology produces human proteins or antibodies inside patient cells, which could lead to fast, cheap, and highly adaptable platform of drugs used to target cancer, rare diseases, infectious diseases, and potential pandemic threats looming on the horizon.

Should Moderna get its mRNA technology through clinical trials, it could be possible for scientists to be presented with a new pathogen, identify its genome, and rapidly provide an mRNA molecule that generates the antibodies necessary to eradicate it. Further, the mRNA drugs use common drug manufacturing processes, shortening the time it would take to deploy the drug on a wide scale drastically.

Stéphane Bancel, president and CEO of Moderna, said: “The strong support from our investors is a testament to the incredible work done by our team over the past three years in unlocking the potential of mRNA Therapeutics to drive transformational advances for patients. With $800 million in cash after this financing, we are moving rapidly to support the exponential growth of our mRNA Therapeutics platform with new investments, partnerships and ventures, and are committed to recruiting the best industry talent to support this growth at all levels, including bench scientists, seasoned drug hunters and leaders for our new ventures.”