Startups, Venture

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.

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