GSK vet Ja­son Gard­ner takes the helm of Ma­gen­ta, emerg­ing from stealth with a $48.5M round

Ja­son Gard­ner, Ma­gen­ta CEO. Jen Ran­dall Pho­tog­ra­phy.

Ja­son Gard­ner re­turned to his old stomp­ing grounds in Cam­bridge, MA back in the fall of 2014 with a mis­sion to hunt up new col­lab­o­ra­tions for the phar­ma gi­ant Glax­o­SmithK­line. He’s stay­ing on as CEO of an up­start biotech which is now com­ing out of stealth mode with a new plat­form tech un­der con­struc­tion for stem cell trans­plants. And he’s build­ing it with some of the top sci­en­tif­ic hands in the field.

“I left (GSK) last No­vem­ber to join At­las (Ven­ture),” the Har­vard-ed­u­cat­ed Gard­ner tells me. Bruce Booth at At­las played a big role in his change of ca­reer as Gard­ner ini­tial­ly stepped in as an en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence and then quick­ly shift­ed over to help­ing set up Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics in the seed stage. And the switch from Big Phar­ma to lit­tle start­up has brought him back to work­ing hand-in-hand with Har­vard pro­fes­sor David Scad­den and his lab, where Gard­ner did his post­doc work.

Scad­den and a large group of his col­leagues (see the full list be­low) will help Gard­ner and his grow­ing team of sci­en­tists at the new­born biotech. Ma­gen­ta is get­ting start­ed for­mal­ly with a $48.5 mil­lion A round led joint­ly by At­las and Third Rock, a first for these two promi­nent Boston-backed VCs. And Google’s GV is jump­ing in­to the syn­di­cate along with Ac­cess In­dus­tries (Blavat­nik Group) and Part­ners In­no­va­tion Fund, round­ing out a pool that could — de­pend­ing on how the com­pa­ny pro­gress­es — pony the biotech’s work for up to about three years.

Scad­den’s lab has been pub­lish­ing some new work in stem cell trans­plan­ta­tion that will help in­spire the R&D ef­fort at Ma­gen­ta. In sim­ple terms, it’s an old tech­nol­o­gy plagued with prob­lems and still full of po­ten­tial. The prob­lems stretch from prep­ping the pa­tients, to har­vest­ing stem cells and then boost­ing the har­vest to achieve a ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect — the three an­gles that the com­pa­ny will now work to im­prove.

More broad­ly, Ma­gen­ta is di­rect­ed at re­boot­ing the im­mune sys­tem, look­ing for a new path to cures in an age where im­munother­a­pies have moved to the cen­ter of hun­dreds of new drug de­vel­op­ment ef­forts.

“It’s the first time a com­pa­ny has tak­en a holis­tic look at stem cell trans­plants,” says Gard­ner. The goal: “How do we change the risk/ben­e­fit con­ver­sa­tion?” Ma­gen­ta’s mis­sion is to make that con­ver­sa­tion fo­cus a lot more on the ben­e­fits, and a lot less on the risks en­tailed.

Like a lot of start-up CEOs, Gard­ner will al­so be spend­ing a lot of his time re­cruit­ing. Ma­gen­ta cur­rent­ly has a staff of 20, which Gard­ner ex­pects will dou­ble next year.

It made a lot of sense for At­las and Third Rock to join hands on the new com­pa­ny, adds the CEO. It turned out they were both cir­cling the is­sue, query­ing the ex­perts and do­ing the same home­work, and quick­ly de­cid­ed they could do more to­geth­er than sep­a­rate­ly.

Here’s the full list of the sci­en­tif­ic founders:

  • David Scad­den, MD, Ger­ald and Dar­lene Jor­dan Pro­fes­sor of Med­i­cine, Pro­fes­sor of Stem Cell and Re­gen­er­a­tive Bi­ol­o­gy, and Chair of the De­part­ment of Stem Cell and Re­gen­er­a­tive Bi­ol­o­gy, Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty; Di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Re­gen­er­a­tive Med­i­cine, Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal; Co-founder and Co-di­rec­tor, Har­vard Stem Cell In­sti­tute
  • Der­rick Rossi, PhD, As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor of Stem Cell and Re­gen­er­a­tive Bi­ol­o­gy, Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty; In­ves­ti­ga­tor, Pro­gram in Cel­lu­lar and Mol­e­c­u­lar Med­i­cine, Boston Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal; Prin­ci­pal Fac­ul­ty mem­ber, Har­vard Stem Cell In­sti­tute
  • John Diper­sio, MD, PhD, Pro­fes­sor of Med­i­cine, Pe­di­atrics and Pathol­o­gy/Im­munol­o­gy, Chief, Di­vi­sion of On­col­o­gy, Site­man Can­cer Cen­ter, Barnes Jew­ish Hos­pi­tal, Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty St. Louis School of Med­i­cine
  • Robert Ne­grin, MD, Pro­fes­sor of Med­i­cine, Di­vi­sion Chief of the Blood and Mar­row Trans­plant Pro­gram; Med­ical Di­rec­tor of the Clin­i­cal Bone Mar­row Trans­plan­ta­tion Lab­o­ra­to­ry, Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty
  • Lui­gi Nal­di­ni, MD, PhD, Di­rec­tor, San Raf­faele-Telethon In­sti­tute for Gene Ther­a­py, Mi­lan (TIGET)
  • Alan Tyn­dall, MD, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor and Head of Rheuma­tol­ogy, Co-founder, Basel Stem Cell Net­work, Uni­ver­si­ty of Basel.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

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Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Ken Frazier, AP Images

Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: Searching the Pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Hill­house re­casts spot­light on Chi­na's biotech scene with $160M round for Shang­hai-based an­ti­body mak­er

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The Series B has landed right around the time Genor would have listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, according to plans reported by Bloomberg late last year. Insiders had said that the company was looking to raise about $200 million.

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Mark Genovese (Stanford via Twitter)

Gilead woos fil­go­tinib clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Stan­ford to lead the charge on NASH, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases

With an FDA OK for the use of filgotinib in rheumatoid arthritis expected to drop any day now, Gilead has recruited a new leader from academia to lead its foray into inflammatory diseases.

Mark Genovese — a longtime Stanford professor and most recently the clinical chief in the division of immunology and rheumatology — was the principal investigator in FINCH 2, one of three studies that supported Gilead’s NDA filing. In his new role as SVP, inflammation, he will oversee the clinical development of the entire portfolio.

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Gilead re­leas­es an­oth­er round of murky remde­sivir re­sults

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In a Phase III trial, patients given a 5-day dose of remdesivir were 65% more likely to show “clinical improvement” compared to an arm given standard-of-care. The trial, though, gave little indication for whether the drug had an impact on key endpoints such as survival or time-to-recovery. And in a surprising twist, a 10-day dosing arm of remdesivir didn’t lead to a statistically significant improvement over standard of care.

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Once a high fly­er, a stag­ger­ing Aduro is auc­tion­ing off most of the pipeline as CEO Stephen Isaacs hands off the shell to new own­ers

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Isaacs —who forged a string of high-profile Big Pharma deals along the way — has wrapped a 13-year run at the biotech with one program for kidney disease going to the new owners at Chinook Therapeutics. A host of once-heralded assets like their STING agonist program partnered with Novartis (which dumped their work on ADU-S100 after looking over weak clinical results), the Lilly-allied cGAS-STING inhibitor program and the anti-CD27 program out-licensed to Merck will all be posted for auction under a strategic review process.

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No­var­tis chips in $10M for IPO-bound part­ner Pli­ant; Tenax shares soar on heart drug da­ta

Novartis is coming in with $10 million to help support the looming IPO of a partner. Pliant Therapeutics posted a new filing with the SEC showing that Novartis is buying the shares at $15, the mid-point of the range. It’s adding several million shares to the offering, bringing the total to around $135 million. Biotech companies have been enjoying quite a run on virtual Wall Street, with investors boosting new offerings to some big hauls.

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