Gilead wagers $109M — cash — that this biotech can illuminate a drug discovery path pointed straight into the kidney
By any objective measure, Gilead has learned as much or more than virtually any other biopharma player about the liver. Now they’re going deeper, much deeper, into the kidney with the help of a Cambridge, MA-based biotech you may have forgotten about.
In a new discovery pact being unveiled Wednesday morning, the big biotech $GILD is committing $109 million — in cash — to start work with a biotech few in the global industry will likely recall off hand. Goldfinch Bio, a classic Third Rock startup crafted under the leadership of Abbie Celniker, has been building what it rather grandly calls the Kidney Genome Atlas to gather together a treasure trove of genetics and clinical data devoted entirely to the kidney. And they’ve added a biology platform of kidney cells and “organoids” to find drugs that can hit the precision targets they’ve identified.
Now helmed by Tony Johnson, an AstraZeneca veteran who had worked with Mene Pangalos’ group in the UK, this is Goldfinch’s first big research alliance. After getting $55 million in A round money close to 3 years ago, the company quietly added $29 million more to extend the runway through the tech buildout.
They are aiming at the clinic, using their genetics expertise and biology to avoid the multiple mishaps that have occurred with kidney drug R&D in the past.
“We anticipate validating the first target next year,” Johnson tells me, then it’s on to the first molecule and into the clinic.
Gilead’s cash commitment — $50 million upfront, $5 million for equity and $54 million for research support to flesh out its work specifically on diabetic kidney disease — is an unusually large cash commitment for a discovery deal, which helps explain the oversized $1.95 billion in biobucks on the table for up to 5 programs.
The deal doesn’t cap the work at 5 drugs, but it’s a handy way to outline the upside.
For Gilead, it’s a way to build out a segment of the pipeline that hasn’t received a lot of attention. Johnson notes a mid-stage program for an ASK1 drug in fibrosis, where the company has been centered on a variety of therapies. A Gilead spokesman tells me:
We have been studying kidney disease preclinically and clinically for several years. Our pipeline builds upon our expertise in the fields of inflammation and fibrosis biology. These are processes involved in a number of kidney diseases including DKD, lupus nephritis and other conditions. Our aim is to develop novel disease modifying therapies for patients with kidney diseases as we grow our presence in inflammation and fibrosis.
Gilead’s $5 million for equity makes it part of the syndicate now. Johnson says they’ll be thinking more about the right time for an IPO as they get closer to proof of concept data on new drugs. In the meantime, they’ve been building some strength on the AI side, looking to create a computational group that can plumb the data they’ve been gathering to help spotlight targets and drugs.
If this all works out, the next 3 years at Goldfinch will be a lot more noisy than the last 3.