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.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

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