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The RNA therapy revolutionary

Rabia T. Khan, GrCert 10, MBA 13
November 6, 2023
By Samantha Rideout, GrDip 10

Black-and-white portrait of a smiling woman with shoulder-length wavy hair wearing a sleeveless blouse.

Drug discovery is a challenging field — it takes billions of dollars and around 10 years to bring a product to market. A majority of treatments work by interacting with various proteins in our cells, but Rabia T. Khan, a geneticist with business acumen and a social conscience, hopes to use cutting-edge AI technologies and a data-driven approach to discover drugs that target our RNA.

As the founder and CEO of Serna Bio, Khan is working with her team to uncover the rules that govern interactions between small molecules and RNA structures. Ultimately, these efforts could contribute to an entirely new drug class to use against major illnesses.

Unlocking massive potential

“Traditional approaches to small-molecule drug discovery have targeted proteins. But only two per cent of the human genome makes proteins. Meanwhile, 70 percent of it makes RNA. Serna Bio’s mission is to build the world’s first map of the druggable transcriptome, opening an entirely new target space to modulate biology that has been previously undruggable.”

On founding a startup

“I founded this company because I believe there’s a need for a change in the way we do drug discovery, one that would enable us to tackle the health challenges of the future and develop accessible medicines for diseases with few treatment options, such as endometriosis, dementia or schizophrenia. It’s a privilege and an honour to be a founder in biotech.”

The role of AI

“Machines are inherently better than humans at detecting patterns in large datasets, and with the amount, speed and density of data we can now generate, it is only a matter of time before AI is par for the course in drug discovery.”

Ambition to give back

“Mental health has always been a passion of mine, driven by events in my own personal life. In Pakistan, which is where I’m from, mental illnesses are widely misunderstood and stigmatized, and access to medications is restricted to those with significant income. My life’s goal is to establish a foundation that will fund access to medication and research for mental illnesses in Pakistan.”

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