Tying basic science to spinouts, Dana-Farber debuts sister funds totaling $126M with MPM Capital
As one of the most prestigious cancer institutes in the US, Dana-Farber has enjoyed considerable support for its entrepreneurial pursuits, spinning out about 30 companies in the past 12 years.
“Now where we’ve always struggled — where every cancer center struggled — is support of basic science,” Barrett Rollins, chief scientific officer emeritus, told Endpoints News.
And then two of its trustees had an idea. What if they tied philanthropy to investment in Dana-Farber startups, requiring a donation to basic science as a condition for accessing its brightest biotech venture ideas?
Eight years of investor-vetting and model-refining later, it’s raised $26 million for the philanthropic fund and settled on a general partner to manage the “sister” venture fund: MPM Capital.
The $100 million Oncology Innovation Fund will complement the $1 billion MPM has reserved for oncology investing, Ansbert Gadicke, co-founder and managing director, said. It includes a $400 million venture capital fund and $700 million crossover fund — with oncology sitting as the number 1 focus at the firm.
Around half of the fund will go toward new spinouts from Dana-Farber that MPM will help launch, he added. All told, he expects to back 15 startups with this fund, some of which could be fledglings from other academic institutions or started by fellow VCs. Six investments are already underway.
“We like to have that level of diversification but what still allows us to be concentrated and make meaningful investments in each company,” Gadicke said.
MPM has full control over the fund, while Dana-Farber — led by Laurie Glimcher — is wholly responsible for how to spend their philanthropic money.
Much remains to be explored in both genetic control of cancer and early detection/prevention work, according to Rollins. And then there’s the relentless tide of immuno-oncology — a field that he said Dana-Farber pioneered 40 years ago. In fact, the institute has previously worked with MPM to pour Arlene Sharpe, Gordon Freeman and Vijay Kuchroo’s findings into CoStim Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Novartis. Tizona Therapeutics, the AbbVie-partnered biotech that Gadicke described as the star of the portfolio, is also focused on immunotherapy.
“The reason why that’s such a great example is because the discovery of PD-L1 and PD-1 effect by Gordon were the result of this undirected curiosity-driven basic science which is the target of the philanthropic fund,” Rollins said.
The plan is to offer $1 million grants to two to four such projects each year over the next four to five years, hire a new junior faculty member and purchase some expensive equipment with the rest of the fund.