This LA-Based Startup Aims to Permanently Treat Devastating Diseases Like Parkinson’s

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

This LA-Based Startup Aims to Permanently Treat Devastating Diseases Like Parkinson’s

A Thousand Oaks startup that is creating gene therapies aimed at permanently treating devastating diseases like Alzheimer's announced Thursday it received $140 million in capital.

Capsida Biotherapeutics is joining the gene therapy craze with small encapsulated viruses known as adeno-associated viruses, which can target specific cells in the body to treat diseases. The method is similar to the one used by pharma companies that create coronavirus vaccines.

Westlake Village BioPartners and Versant Ventures backed the Series A round with $50 million. Another $90 million came from pharma company AbbVie through a partnership.

Gene therapies aren't new — as a matter of fact, gene therapies have been heralded as a safer, more long-term solution to many diseases. Their approach is often try to replace or get rid of mutated genes that are causing harm to the body, or add genes to help the body fight diseases like Parkinson's or Huntington's.

"Unlike a pill that you take your once, twice a day, it's one treatment and you're done," said Robert Pacifici, chief scientific officer at a nonprofit Huntington's research organization called CHDI Foundation.

Several recent gene therapies have yet to break through. The FDA recently rejected the approval of BioMarin's gene therapy for hemophilia bleeding.

Others, like BlueBird Bio (which billed a promising sickle-cell gene therapy) and Ultragenyx (which was testing a gene therapy cure for Angelman syndrome) suspended clinical trials after patients had adverse effects.

There are often two problems to using gene therapy — targeted therapies don't always get to their destination, and, in large doses, often lead to negative effects, but in small doses, don't produce the desired results. It's a delicate balancing act for drug developers who need to be able to prove their therapy works without harming the body.

Robert Cuddihy, CEO of Capsida

Capsida Biotherapeutics CEO Robert Cuddihy

(Courtesy of Capsida Biotherapeutics)

"There's a whole swath of areas that really haven't been amenable to any treatments," said Capsida CEO Robert Cuddihy. "I've always had an interest in the gene therapies and been following it for more than a decade, but it really wasn't ready for prime time."

Capsida uses — as its name would suggest — capsids, the outer coating of a viral particle that gets injected into the body. The capsid increases the particle's ability to hone in on a specific organ or cell, making targeting easier.

"The same amount of virus can actually do a whole lot more because it's much better getting into the cell," Cuddihy said. "It's much more effective. That then lets you decrease the dose," which lowers the risk profile of the virus.

The technology behind Capsida came from Caltech neuroscientists Viviana Gradinaru, who took existing capsids that could only transfer around 5% to 10% of the genetic material to the body and upped it to 70%, improving efficacy. She also engineered capsids to de-target the liver (which sucks in many gene therapies), making it easier for the body to send the capsid to the necessary cell.

Inside the capsid, where specific genes or therapies are located, the company will use AI and machine learning to help guide the development of gene therapies through the body and find its precise targets.

Capsida's partnership with AbbVie net the company $80 million in cash and $10 million in equity, with the potential of $530 million, as both companies make steps in targeting three specific diseases that deal with the central nervous system.

The technology could prove to be immensely useful for rare diseases like Huntington's, or prevalent, devastating diseases like Alzheimer's (though the company declined to mention which three diseases it would be targeting).

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NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

NASA’s JPL Receives Billions to Begin Understanding Our Solar System
Evan Xie

NASA’s footprint in California is growing as the agency prepares for Congress to approve its proposed 2024 budget.

The overall NASA budget swelled 6% from the prior year, JPL deputy director Larry James told dot.LA. He added he sees that as a continuation of the last two presidential administrations’ focus on modernizing and bolstering the nation’s space program.

The money goes largely to existing NASA centers in California, including the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory run with Caltech, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

California remains a hotspot for NASA space activity and investment. In 2021, the agency estimated its economic output impact on the region to be around $15.2 billion. That was far more than its closest competing states, including Texas ($9.3 billion) and Maryland (roughly $8 billion). That same year, NASA reported it employed over 66,000 people in California.

“In general, Congress has been very supportive” of the JPL and NASA’s missions, James said. “It’s generally bipartisan [and] supported by both sides of the aisle. In the last few years in general NASA has been able to have increased budgets.”

There are 41 current missions run by JPL and CalTech, and another 16 scheduled for the future. James added the new budget is “an incredible support for all the missions we want to do.”

The public-private partnership between NASA and local space companies continues to evolve, and the increased budget could be a boon for LA-based developers. Numerous contractors for NASA (including CalTech, which runs the JPL), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman all stand to gain new contracts once the budget is finalized, partly because NASA simply needs the private industry’s help to achieve all its goals.

James said that there was only one JPL mission that wasn’t funded – a mission to send an orbital satellite to survey the surface and interior of Venus, called VERITAS.

NASA Employment and Output ImpactEvan Xie

The Moon and Mars

Much of the money earmarked in the proposed 2024 budget is for crewed missions. Overall, NASA’s asking for $8 billion from Congress to fund lunar exploration missions. As part of this, the majority is earmarked for the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to land a woman and person of color on the Moon’s south pole.

While there’s a number of high-profile missions the JPL is working on that are focused on Mars, including Mars Sample Return project (which received $949 million in this proposed budget) and Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover, JPL also received significant funding to study the Earth’s climate and behavior.

JPL also got funding for several projects to map our universe. One is the SphereX Near Earth Objects surveyor mission, the goal of which is to use telescopes to “map the entire universe,” James said, adding that the mission was fully funded.

International Space Station

NASA’s also asking for more money to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), which houses a number of projects dedicated to better understanding the Earth’s climate and behavior.

The agency requested roughly $1.3 billion to maintain the ISS. It also is increasing its investment in space flight support, in-space transportation and commercial development of low-earth orbit (LEO). “The ISS is an incredible platform for us,” James said.

James added there are multiple missions outside or on board the ISS now taking data, including EMIT, which launched in July 2022. The EMIT mission studies arid dust sources on the planet using spectroscopy. It uses that data to remodel how mineral dust movement in North and South America might affect the Earth’s temperature changes.

Another ISS mission JPL launched is called ECOSTRESS. The mission sent a thermal radiometer onto the space station in June 2018 to monitor how plants lose water through their leaves, with the goal of figuring out how the terrestrial biosphere reacts to changes in water availability. James said the plan is to “tell you the kind of foliage health around the globe” from space.

One other ISS project is called Cold Atom Lab. It is “an incredible fundamental physics machine,” James said, that’s run by “three Nobel Prize winners as principal investigators on the Space Station.” Cold Atom Lab is a physics experiment geared toward figuring out how quantum phenomena behave in space by cooling atoms with lasers to just below absolute zero degrees.

In the long term, James was optimistic NASA’s imaging projects could lead to more dramatic discoveries. Surveying the makeup of planets’ atmospheres is a project “in the astrophysics domain we’re very excited about,” James said. He added that this imaging could lead to information about life on other planets, or, at the very least, an understanding of why they’re no longer habitable.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Behind Her Empire: Margaret Wishingrad On Creating A Low Sugar Cereal Brand
Provided by BHE

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Three Wishes founder and CEO Margaret Wishingrad talks about creating brand awareness and shares the key component to running a successful business.

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‘Commerce at The Curb’: LA’s Rideshare Debate Heats Up

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
Connie Llanos, Jordan Justus and Gene Oh
Justin Janes, Vizeos Media

Three years ago, Los Angeles went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, cities like L.A. are struggling to hold on to pandemic-era transportation and infrastructure changes, like sidewalk dining and slow streets, while managing escalating demand for curb space from rideshare and delivery.

At Curbivore, a conference dedicated to “commerce at the curb” held earlier this month in downtown Los Angeles, the topic was “Grading on a Curb: The State of our Streets & Cities in 2023,” a panel moderated by Drew Grant, editorial director for dot.LA.

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