Venture

Influential Third Rock Ventures marks a decade of high-profile wins and losses with record $616M Fund IV

In the 10 years since Third Rock Ventures was founded, the VC group has been one of the industry’s most influential trendsetters in creating the past generation of biotechnology upstarts. And now it’s lined up a record $616 million for its fourth fund to begin its second decade.

Abbie Celniker

Abbie Celniker

The new fund bring its total take to close to $2 billion. And in this next wave founding partners Mark Levin and Kevin Starr — among the Millennium veterans who played instrumental roles early on — will be advisors only as they continue to shepherd their earlier plays. A group of 8 partners, including the newly named partner Abbie Celniker and the newly promoted Charles Homcy, will take the lead in doing the heavy lifting on company creation for Fund IV, which for Third Rock often involves an interim stint as CEO of the companies it spawns.

The VC’s willingness to go long with big Series A investments helped found a slate of new companies and inspired others to place multimillion-dollar bets of their own behind new technology. And it was well set up to turn from biotech development to the IPO stage when the window for going public opened wide in late 2012.

Those IPOs have helped fund some of the most closely-watched drug developers in the business, including Agios, bluebird bio and Editas. There were buyout deals for Alnara, Motus, Afferent and others. And its portfolio of 40-plus biotechs also includes several that have included disastrous setbacks, underscoring just how high risk the field can be. The black-eye club includes:

  • Zafgen $ZFGN, where the lead obesity drug recently had to be scuttled on safety issues, forcing a shift back to the preclinical stage.
  • Eleven Biotherapeutics $EBIO was also forced to scuttle its lead program, after back-to-back trial flops led CEO Celniker to out-license the remaining program to Roche and turn the company over to a new group looking for a public shell.
  • Ember Therapeutics’ approach to obesity proved to be far — too far — ahead of its time.

The venture group liked to get involved with other VCs in early-stage syndicates, and it also favored whipping up its own startups, starting with a brain trust of experts in their field as they looked for new approaches to drug discovery and development.

This transition year for Third Rock comes as the window for IPOs has narrowed considerably, but venture funds continue to flow in the US one step behind last year’s torrid pace. And we’ve seen several of the other bigger venture players step up with record rounds of their own.

Here’s the updated list of partners at Third Rock:

◦Alexis Borisy

◦Abbie Celniker

◦Neil Exter

◦Kevin Gillis

◦Charles Homcy

◦Mark Levin

◦Craig Muir

◦Cary Pfeffer

◦Kevin Starr

◦Bob Tepper


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