Third Rock invests $55M in ‘kidney renaissance’ startup

Third Rock Ventures has incubated, funded and launched another startup, Goldfinch Bio, committing $55M to its mission to modernize the treatment of kidney disease.

Human kidney cross section

Third Rock Ventures has rallied a $55 million Series A to launch Goldfinch Bio, a startup that aims to apply precision medicine to kidney disease by combining biology and genetics.

Like all Third Rock companies, it seemed to appear out of nowhere with a solid foundation of cash. In reality, the startup was hatched by Third Rock 18 months ago, almost from scratch, and incubated near its main office in Boston.

As a result of that close nurturing, Third Rock partner and interim Goldfinch CEO Abbie Celniker said the firm was comfortable raising the full $55 million itself, tapping into the last of its third venture fund.

The firm also has a lot of faith in the science and the market. According to Celniker, the field has been stagnant for 20-30 years, relying on medications developed for other organs and diseases.

“I think that maybe our name sort of says it all,” Celniker said in a phone interview. “The Goldfinch is really a symbol of health and revitalization and revival. And when we named the company we really thought about how it’s a renaissance, we are leading a renaissance in the discovery and development of kidney therapeutics.”

According to the National Kidney Association, over 661,000 Americans have kidney failure. Within this group, approximately 468,000 individuals require regular dialysis treatment, which costs Medicare an estimated $83,356 per patient, per year.

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Until now, the missing piece for drug development was knowledge of the underlying pathological mechanisms.

Third Rock’s take has been to inject genetics into the biological approach, allowing them to clearly define specific targets and pathways that cause different manifestations of the disease. It’s an area that has made significant progress in the last five years, Celniker said.

Company cofounder Peter Mundel has been researching kidney physiology for decades, most recently as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. Third Rock reached out to Mundel to gain his expertise and later persuaded him to join the company as SVP of biology.

“I think for our patients with chronic kidney disease, the fact that Third Rock is really interested in launching this company is really wonderful,” Mundel said during the phone interview. “It’s about time to do something.”

Celniker had also been advising the young startup in its early incubation days. In October, she joined Third Rock full time but continued to work with Goldfinch, now serving as the interim CEO.

The news rounds out a busy year for Third Rock, which has launched multiple companies with financing around $50 million.

Most recently, the company announced the launch of a new stem cell transplantation company, Magenta Therapeutics, with $48.5 million in Series A financing.

In September, Third Rock committed $57 million to Relay Therapeutics, which aims to build the “first dedicated drug discovery pipeline centered on protein motion.”

Back in July, it launched Fulcrum Therapeutics, once again raising $55 million to advance the company’s small molecule gene regulation technology.

Photo: HYWARDS, Getty Images