Atlas, Third Rock join forces to launch new stem cell upstart

For the first time, venture capital firms Atlas and Third Rock are coming together in a $48.5 million Series A to create and launch Magenta Therapeutics—a new biotech that aims to “reset and refresh the immune system.”

The pair have been incubating Magenta and now want to work hand-in-hand with the latest in stem cell science to “reboot the immune system” for cancer, autoimmune diseases, and genetic blood disorders.

The two VCs have been working on building this preclinical company together over the last 18 months.  Both firms were talking with its series of scientific founders, and they tell FierceBiotech that “it made great sense to be working together as a team.”

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They have already recruited 20 team members, predominately scientists, and are planning to double in number next year.

The upstart’s ultimate goal is to create a new set of therapeutics via a first complete platform that addresses the current challenges inherent in stem cell transplants.

It aims to do this by improving three key aspects of the procedure: patient preparation using targeted antibodies; stem cell harvesting using new biologic agents; and increasing stem cell numbers by targeting self-renewal pathways.

Given the early stage few details were available, but the firms said that this is the first time a company has taken a total approach to stem cell transplant medicine.

The Series A round also includes money from GV (formerly Google Ventures), Access Industries (Blavatnik Group) and Partners Innovation Fund.

On top of this, and via a license agreement with Harvard University, Cambridge, MA-based Magenta can also get its hands on the latest stem cell tech being developed at Harvard.

“Hematopoietic stem cells have the remarkable ability to develop into all cells in our blood and immune system, and have been used to transplant over one million patients in the past 50 years,” said entrepreneur-in-residence at Atlas Jason Gardner, the CEO, president and co-founder of Magenta.

“Technical and scientific hurdles have relegated stem cell transplantation to a last resort for deadly diseases today, but new science has emerged that can be advanced to the clinic that could fundamentally open up this powerful medicine to patients suffering from earlier stage cancers, bone marrow failure and a large set of aggressive autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and scleroderma.”

Dr. Gardner, who was also formerly the head of GSK’s Boston R&D Satellite, came on board specifically “with the goal of building and creating Magenta,” he tells FierceBiotech, adding that he will stay on as its full time CEO.

When talking about the risks of stem cell research, Dr. Gardner said: “While the some fields of stem cell research have indeed suffered some setbacks, hematopoietic stem cell transplant has been proven effective and over one million patients worldwide have received a hematopoietic stem cell transplant. 

“As for risk, we agree that innovative drug discovery is always inherently difficult and risky, but there are decades of solid research and clinical practice in HSC that makes us confident the scientific questions we are addressing are tractable. We believe that our products will make stem cell transplant more effective for more patients.”

When I asked if this approach could be used in tandem with other new R&D fields, such as CAR-T, Dr. Gardner said: “Certainly. Our goal is to revolutionize all aspects of stem cell transplant, and to collaborate with other innovative companies active in this field, including those exploring CAR-T therapies.”

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