'Gap years' are for adults, too: Ex-Foun­da­tion ex­ec Steve Kaf­ka joins Third Rock af­ter glo­be­trot­ting break

Af­ter tak­ing off the past 7 months to trav­el the world and spend time with fam­i­ly, for­mer Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine ex­ec Steve Kaf­ka is join­ing the start­up foundry Third Rock Ven­ture as their lat­est ven­ture part­ner.

Kaf­ka has spent the bulk of his ca­reer in fi­nance and op­er­a­tions at var­i­ous bio­phar­ma out­fits, most re­cent­ly serv­ing as pres­i­dent and COO of Foun­da­tion. This will be Kaf­ka’s first post in the VC world, but that’s not un­usu­al for Third Rock part­ners. In fact, the VC firm makes a habit of bring­ing in guys like Kaf­ka. Just last week, an­oth­er ven­ture part­ner — Jeff Tong — was telling me about Third Rock’s un­usu­al ap­petite for in­dus­try ex­ecs that have more ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning com­pa­nies than in­vest­ing in them. That’s be­cause the firm is a bit non­tra­di­tion­al in its mod­el, op­er­at­ing like a “start­up stu­dio” — build­ing out com­pa­nies them­selves rather than in­vest­ing in ex­ist­ing ones.

It seems to be work­ing for Third Rock. The ven­ture firm has seen a num­ber of re­cent ex­its, in­clud­ing from no­table port­fo­lio com­pa­nies like Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics (which just raised a $100 mil­lion IPO ear­li­er this sum­mer), Ed­i­tas, Blue­bird, and Kaf­ka’s for­mer em­ploy­er Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine.

Af­ter re­sign­ing from Foun­da­tion this Feb­ru­ary, Kaf­ka an­nounced he would spend his next phase of life glo­be­trot­ting. His LinkedIn pro­file pro­claims: “A ‘gap year’ isn’t just for the very young!”

Steve Kaf­ka

Kaf­ka tells me he and his fam­i­ly trav­eled to France, Switzer­land, and then came back home to Boston to achieve his goal of “100% at­ten­dance at my daugh­ter’s lacrosse games.”

When it came time to plug back in, Kaf­ka said he couldn’t imag­ine a more ex­cit­ing role than one at Third Rock, where he would be ex­posed to the liveli­est part of ear­ly-stage en­tre­pre­neur­ship on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

“For me, the ear­ly-stage com­pa­ny build is the best part,” Kaf­ka said. “To be able to go do that again — and again and again — sounds so in­cred­i­bly fun and im­pact­ful to me.”

We don’t know which star­tups he’ll be head­ing up for now, but Kaf­ka said they plan to get him start­ed on two to three dif­fer­ent projects and see where things go.


Im­age: Steve Kaf­ka. THIRD ROCK

Cell and Gene Con­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers Must Em­brace Dig­i­ti­za­tion

The Cell and Gene Industry is growing at a staggering 30% CAGR and is estimated to reach $14B by 20251. A number of cell, gene and stem cell therapy sponsors currently have novel drug substances and products and many rely on Contract Development Manufacturing Organizations (CDMO) to produce them with adherence to stringent regulatory cGMP conditions. Cell and gene manufacturing for both autologous (one to one) and allogenic (one to many) treatments face difficult issues such as: a complex supply chain, variability on patient and cellular level, cell expansion count and a tight scheduling of lot disposition process. This complexity affects quality, compliance and accountability in the entire vein-to-vein process for critically ill patients.

A lab technician works during research on coronavirus at Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical in Beerse, Belgium, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (Virginia Mayo/AP Images)

End­points News ranks all 28 play­ers in the Covid-19 vac­cine race. Here's how it stacks up to­day

The 28 players now in or close to the clinical race to get a Covid-19 vaccine over the finish line are angling for a piece of a multibillion-dollar market. And being first — or among the leaders — will play a big role in determining just how big a piece.

Endpoints News writer Nicole DeFeudis has posted a snapshot of all the companies, universities and hospital-based groups now racing through the clinic, ranking them according to their place in the pipeline as well as the latest remarks available on timelines. And we’ll keep this lineup updated right through the end of the year, as the checkered flags start to fall, possibly as early as October.

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Bayer's Marianne De Backer with Endpoints founder John Carroll, Endpoints@JPM20 (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

UP­DAT­ED: Hunt­ing a block­buster, Bay­er forges an $875M-plus M&A deal to ac­quire women’s health biotech

Bayer has dropped $425 million in cash on its latest women’s health bet, bringing a UK biotech and its non-hormonal menopause treatment into the fold.

KaNDy Therapeutics had its roots in GlaxoSmithKline, which spun out several neuroscience drugs into NeRRe Therapeutics back in 2012. Five years later the team created a new biotech to focus solely on NT-814 — which they considered “one of the few true innovations in women’s health in more than two decades.”

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Phase III read­outs spell dis­as­ter for Genen­tech’s lead IBD drug

Roche had big plans for etrolizumab. Eyeing a hyper-competitive IBD and Crohn’s market where they have not historically been a player, the company rolled out 8 different Phase III trials, testing the antibody for two different uses across a range of different patient groups.

On Monday, Roche released results for 4 of those studies, and they mark a decided setback for both the Swiss pharma and their biotech sub Genentech, potentially spelling an end to a drug they put over half-a-decade and millions of dollars behind.

Eisai moves to 200 Metro Blvd. by late 2021 (ON3)

Ei­sai is cre­at­ing a new US cor­po­rate, R&D HQ in Roche’s old Nut­ley, NJ cam­pus

Eight years after Roche pulled up stakes from Nutley, NJ in a major R&D reorganization, Japan’s Eisai is moving its US corporate and research hub into their old campus.

Now the ON3 property, Eisai — a longtime Biogen partner focused on neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s — will bring together a staff of up to 1,200 employees. And execs are pitching the move to the New Jersey campus as a cultural game-changer.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO

Covid-19 roundup: Pfiz­er-backed BioN­Tech plans to seek FDA OK for a new vac­cine 'as ear­ly as' Oc­to­ber — ahead of the elec­tion

BioNTech execs say they’re on track to get their late-stage data on a Covid-19 vaccine — partnered with Pfizer — into the hands of regulators as early as October.

In their Q2 release Tuesday morning, the biotech reported that investigators could have late-stage data as early as October, and they won’t be wasting any time in hustling that over to the FDA.

“I am incredibly proud of our team, who has worked tirelessly to initiate our BNT162 Phase 2b/3 trial in record time and put us in a position to seek regulatory review as early as October of this year, if our trials are successful,” said Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s CEO and co-founder.

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Gallia Levy, Spark CMO (Roche)

Spark Ther­a­peu­tics nabs new CMO from Genen­tech, fill­ing a ma­jor post-merg­er de­par­ture

Spark Therapeutics is getting a new CMO from their new owners.

The gene therapy company-turned-subsidiary has named Gallia Levy, who had been running rare blood disorders — including clinical development for their blockbuster-potential hemophilia antibody Hemlibra — for Roche’s big biotech sub Genentech to run medical affairs.

The appointment is a fitting one. Roche spent $4.8 billion to acquire Spark last year in large part to get their hands on their hemophilia gene therapy, SPK-8011, and expand the toe-hold Hemlibra gave them in an crowded hemophilia space.  It’s also a somewhat ironic appointment: The FTC held up the Spark acquistions for nearly a year, reportedly over concerns about the anti-trust implications of Roche owning both a top chronic treatment in Hemlibra and a top one-time treatment in Spark’s gene therapy.

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DFC CEO Adam Boehler and Kodak CEO Jim Continenza (Kodak)

Covid-19 roundup: Cure­Vac beefs up its uni­corn IPO dreams as bil­lion­aire own­er takes this Covid-19 mR­NA play­er on a forced march to Nas­daq; Ko­dak's $765M deal is put on hold

When CureVac initially jotted down $100 million for its IPO raise a couple of weeks ago, it seemed small. The German mRNA player, after all, had jumped into a Covid-19 race that swelled the sails of Moderna and BioNTech by tens of billions. And after raising $640 million in a slate of deals, $100 million in a hot market like this seemed like a pittance in the bigger scheme of things.

Today, we got a look at a figure that probably comes closer to the game-changing number the top execs probably have in mind. Selling 15.3 million shares at the high end of their $14 to $16 range would net a $243 million bounty. Majority owner Dietmar Hopp is putting in another €100 million, bringing the total to around $350 million. And what are the chances they want to do even better than that?

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Eric Shaff (Seres)

UP­DAT­ED: Af­ter a 4-year so­journ, strug­gling mi­cro­bio­me pi­o­neer Seres claims a break­out PhI­II come­back. And shares re­spond in fren­zied spike

Almost exactly 4 years ago, Seres Therapeutics $MCRB experienced one of those soul-crunching failures that can raise big questions about a biotech’s future. Out front in their pursuit of a gut punch to C. difficile infection (CDI), the Phase II test was a flat failure, and investors wiped out a billion dollars of equity value that never returned in the years that followed.

Seres, though, pressed ahead, changing out CEOs a year ago — bidding Merck vet Roger Pomerantz farewell from the C suite — and pushing through a Phase III, hoping that amping up the dosage would make the key difference. And this morning, they unveiled a claim that they had aced the Phase III and positioned themselves for a run at a landmark FDA OK.

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