Moderna Therapeutics, a privately held drug developer in Cambridge with 180 employees, today announced it will set up a subsidiary devoted to rare disease treatments.

The company announced the launch of Elpidera LLC, which it calls “a new Moderna venture” to apply the company’s expertise in drugs based on so-called messenger RNA to diseases with small patient populations and severe unmet medical needs. Elpidera – which comes from the Greek word for “hope” – is the third such venture company launched by Moderna; roughly a year ago it founded Onkaido Therapeutics (for cancer drugs) and a few months after that Valera LLC for infectious disease treatments.

Greg Licholai, former senior vice president of research at Quintiles and a partner-level consultant at McKinsey & Co., has been hired as the new company’s president. The company be based at Moderna’s headquarters on Bent Street in Cambridge for the time being.

The announcement comes a week after the $8.4 billion acquisition of Lexington-based rare disease biotech Synageva Biopharma (Nasdaq: GEVA) by Connecticut-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ALXN). That merger has drawn significant attention to the rare disease space, where companies are able to charge extremely high prices for drugs to offset the small numbers of patients.

Moderna in fact already has a partnership to develop rare drugs with Alexion; Elpidera will develop separate drugs for other diseases, according to the company.

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