DURHAM – Fresh off raising nearly $8 million in new capital, Durham-based Ribometrix announced a $20 million investment as part of a drug development deal with a Boston firm on Monday. And the deal could mean as much as $700 million to the biotech startup.

The four-year-old startup focuses on the use of ribonucleic acid, a nucleic acid present in all cells known as RNA, to target disease.

“Novel small molecule therapies that target underlying disease mechanisms are desperately needed for high-unmet, rare/orphan as well as broader population diseases such as Huntington’s Disease, cancer, fibrosis, MS, others,” the company says.

In this deal, Ribometrix will pursue two discovery programs with Vertex. Vertex has an option for a third.

“Following discovery and optimization of novel therapeutic molecules, Vertex has the option to take an exclusive global license for the development and commercialization of molecules for that program,” the companies said.

Ribometrix could receive more than $700 million in milestone achievements and royalties for future drug sales.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Robometrix say they will pursue multiple development programs – as many as three – utilizing the proprietary Ribometrix platform and multiple resources from Vertex. Vertex is publicly traded (Nasdaq: VRTX).

Durham biotech Ribometrix raises $7.8M, names new board chair

“As a company founded on groundbreaking research and expertise in RNA structural biology, we have seen firsthand how new technologies are dramatically expanding the druggability of RNA and the potential for transforming the treatment of previously intractable diseases,” said Michael Solomon, Chief Executive Officer of Ribometrix, in the announcement. “Vertex is a leader in creating transformative medicines through serial innovation, and we are proud to partner with them to rapidly and effectively develop a core discovery platform of small molecule therapeutics targeting RNA.”

“Targeting RNA is a potentially powerful new approach for developing small molecule therapeutics, and Ribometrix has developed an innovative technology for the accelerated discovery of selective candidates in this new space,” said Mark Bunnage, Senior Vice President at Vertex, in a statement. “This partnership adds a novel mechanism to our internal toolkit which has the potential to enhance our ongoing research capabilities and support the expansion of our pipeline of transformative medicines in serious diseases.”

Last November, Ribometrix raised $30 million.

The firm also last week named Mike Claymann, an MD, as chair of the board. Clayman co-founded Flexion Therapeutics in 2007 and has since served as its president and CEO,

Hatteras Venture Partners and Pappas Capital are among the firm’s earlier investors. The startup has also received support from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the National Institutes of Health.