Armed with $55M in Third Rock cash, Goldfinch Bio sets out to build a kid­ney dis­ease pipeline

Three years ago, Pe­ter Mundel at Har­vard Med­ical School pub­lished an in­trigu­ing study in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine that high­light­ed the promise of abat­a­cept in treat­ing a threat­en­ing kid­ney dis­ease. Like many in the field, he was look­ing for ways to adapt ex­ist­ing drugs to fight kid­ney dis­ease.

Now, though, Mundel has shut down his lab at Har­vard and joined a Third Rock start­up that is com­ing out of stealth mode to­day. But in­stead of adapt­ing old drugs for kid­ney dis­ease, the goal is to de­vel­op a pipeline of nov­el ther­a­pies, armed with new in­sights in­to the ge­net­ics of what trig­gers these ail­ments, and how they can be treat­ed.

It’s a clas­sic Third Rock mod­el. The com­pa­ny was seed­ed for months as ven­ture in­vestors drew to­geth­er a kind of who’s who in kid­ney dis­ease to ad­vise it. There’s a start­up staff of 10, which will soon grow to about 25, and some key po­si­tions are be­ing filled by Third Rock play­ers who will grad­u­al­ly hand over their jobs as the start­up builds its team. And there’s an A round of $55 mil­lion from Third Rock to get the team to some proof-of-con­cept da­ta af­ter they get in­to the clin­ic.

“Our first tar­get we think is in­volved in the main path­way dri­ving FS­GS (fo­cal seg­men­tal glomeru­loscle­ro­sis, char­ac­ter­ized by scar­ring of the kid­ney’s fil­ter­ing units),” says Third Rock part­ner Ab­bie Cel­niker, who will be tak­ing the helm on an in­ter­im ba­sis for her first CEO role as a new part­ner at Third Rock. That’s a fa­mil­iar tar­get for Mundel. And the com­pa­ny will be ex­plor­ing the broad­er set of dis­eases that FS­GS is in­volved in as it ramps up new pro­grams.

“I think its im­por­tant to rec­og­nize there has nev­er been a re­al kid­ney spe­cif­ic med­i­cine,” Mundel tells me. Kid­ney drugs are typ­i­cal­ly de­vel­oped for oth­er con­di­tions and then tried in the kid­ney. “We are re­al­ly go­ing at the root; kid­ney spe­cif­ic tar­gets com­ing out of our ge­nom­ic in­for­ma­tion.”

Mundel has joined Goldfinch as the se­nior vice pres­i­dent of bi­ol­o­gy. Jean-Christophe Har­mange is the se­nior vice pres­i­dent of drug dis­cov­ery. Clin­i­cal ge­neti­cist and Third Rock ven­ture part­ner Phil Reil­ly will serve as the com­pa­ny’s in­ter­im chief med­ical of­fi­cer. Third Rock part­ner Neil Ex­ter will serve as in­ter­im chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

“I think this is a great time to ful­fill the dream of mak­ing kid­ney spe­cif­ic drugs,” says Mundel. “And it’s great to be in this Third Rock en­vi­ron­ment.”

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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How Chi­na turned the ta­bles on bio­phar­ma's glob­al deal­mak­ing

Fenlai Tan still gets chills thinking about the darkest day of his life.

Three out of eight lung cancer patients who received a tyrosine kinase inhibitor developed by his company, Betta Pharma, died in the span of a month. Tan, the chief medical officer, was summoned to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where the head of the clinical trial department told him that the trial investigators would be conducting an autopsy to see if the patients had died of the disease — they were all very sick by the time they enrolled — or of interstitial lung disease, a deadly side effect tied to the TKI class that’s been reported in Japan.

Ugur Sahin, AP Images

As pres­sure to share tech­nol­o­gy mounts, BioN­Tech se­lects Rwan­da for lat­est vac­cine site

BioNTech’s first mRNA-based vaccine site in Africa will call Rwanda home, and construction is set to start in mid-2022, the company announced Tuesday at a public health forum.

The German company signed a memorandum of understanding, after a meeting between Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, Senegal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aïssata Tall Sall, and senior BioNTech officials. Construction plans have been finalized, and assets have been ordered. The agreement will help bring end-to-end manufacturing to Africa, and as many as several hundred million doses of vaccines per year, though initial production will be more modest.

No­var­tis dumps AveX­is pro­gram for Rett syn­drome af­ter fail­ing re­peat round of pre­clin­i­cal test­ing

Say goodbye to AVXS-201.

The Rett syndrome gene therapy drug made by AveXis — the biotech that was bought, kept separate, then renamed and finally absorbed by Novartis into its R&D division — has been dropped by the biopharma.

In Novartis’ third quarter financial report, the pharma had found that preclinical data did not support development of the gene therapy into IND-enabling trials and beyond. The announcement comes a year after Novartis told the Rett Society how excited it was by the drug — and its potential benefits and uses.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With San­doz con­tin­u­ing to drag on No­var­tis, Vas Narasimhan says he may fi­nal­ly be ready for a sale or spin­off

After years of rehab work aimed at getting Sandoz in fighting trim to compete in a market overshadowed by declining prices, CEO Vas Narasimhan took a big step toward possibly selling or spinning off the giant generic drug player.

The pharma giant flagged plans to launch a strategic review of the business in its Q3 update, noting that “options range from retaining the business to separation.”

Analysts have been poking and prodding Novartis execs for years now as Narasimhan attempted to remodel a business that has been a drag on its performance during most of his reign in the CEO suite. The former R&D chief has made it well known that he’s devoted to the innovative meds side of the business, where they see the greatest potential for growth.

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FDA is much worse than its reg­u­la­to­ry peers at proac­tive­ly dis­clos­ing da­ta, re­searchers find

The European Medicines Agency and Health Canada continue to outpace the FDA when it comes to proactively releasing data on drugs and biologics the agency has reviewed, leading to further questions of why the American agency can’t be more transparent.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, Yale and other academic lawyers and researchers found that between 2016 and April 2021, the EMA proactively released data for 123 unique medical products, while Health Canada proactively released data for 73 unique medical products between 2019 and April 2021. What’s more, the EMA and Health Canada didn’t proactively release the same data on the same drugs. In stark contrast, the FDA in 2018 only proactively disclosed data supporting one drug that was approved that year.

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James Peyer, Cambrian CEO

Brent Saun­ders joins $100M Se­ries C for a com­pa­ny out to be the Bridge­Bio of ag­ing

About a year ago, James Peyer, a CEO and co-founder of the little known longevity biotech Cambrian Biopharma, was trying to find some R&D talent last year when he met with more than a bit of experience in that department: David Nicholson, the former R&D chief of the erstwhile pharma giant Allergan.

It turned out Nicholson already had an interest in Peyer’s field. In their Allergan days, he and COO Brent Saunders held weekly meetups where they tried to figure out how to take the company’s dominance in aesthetics — which, until recently, was often what people meant by anti-aging science — and expertise with more traditional drug development, and use it to make drugs that extend people’s lifespan.

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ARCH-backed SciNeu­ro kicks off search for CNS au­toan­ti­bod­ies with new deal; Mer­ck + Gilead an­nounce PhII tri­al for HIV com­bo

From the very beginning at SciNeuro, CEO Min Li has envisioned a mix of licensing deals and scientific efforts to replicate the breakout success of China’s oncology companies in neuroscience.

The GlaxoSmithKline vet has now inked a deal that somewhat straddles the line between the two strategies.

Teaming up with Mabylon out of Zurich, SciNeuro is now looking to test the hypothesis that the human immune system can play a role in fighting neurodegenerative diseases by discovering and developing human autoantibodies against neurological “targets of mutual interests.” The new partners offered TAR DNA binding protein-43 (TDP-43) and apolipoprotein E (APOE), which are linked to ALS and Alzheimer’s, as examples.