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Drug giant AstraZeneca is moving deeper into RNA-based therapies with a new partnership with the startup Accent Therapeutics, which is hoping to make therapies by manipulating enzymes that subtly change RNA. 

The deal announced Thursday is worth $55 million upfront with more than $1 billion on the table through milestone-based payments. It may be the first partnership a pharmaceutical company has forged with a company working on the concept, which has already attracted a lot of attention and investment. 


Accent’s primary focus is in RNA epitranscriptomics — essentially, finding ways to control the cellular enzymes that make subtle modifications to RNA. These changes can be as small as adding a molecule or taking one away at a precise location, but even relatively minor tweaks can affect the way cells process RNA — which can ultimately affect a cell’s function and growth.

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