Former Foundation Medicine Execs Join Hopkins Kimmel Directors, VCs in New Company

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Steven Kafka, PhD, the former president and chief operating officer of Foundation Medicine who left the company last year, has joined with former colleagues there, present-day colleagues at Third Rock Ventures, and two directors at Johns Hopkins University’s Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center to launch a new company. [Third Rock Ventures]

Steven Kafka, Ph.D., the former president and chief operating officer of Foundation Medicine who left the company last year, has joined with former colleagues there, present-day colleagues at Third Rock Ventures, and two directors at Johns Hopkins University’s Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center to launch a new company.

Thrive Sciences Inc. was registered April 22 with the Corporations Division of the office of Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Francis Galvin.

At Thrive Sciences, Kafka will hold the positions of president, treasurer, and board member. Kafka joined Third Rock in August 2018 as a venture partner, bringing more than 20 years of experience in molecular diagnostics as well as in drug discovery, development and commercialization.

Before joining Third Rock Ventures, Kafka previously served at Foundation Medicine, a provider of genomic profile products and data services which he joined in 2013 as chief business officer, and was promoted to president and COO in February 2017. He resigned from Foundation Medicine effective February 16, 2018, after just a year in the job.

Kafka was president and COO under Troy Cox, who served as CEO for two years starting in February 2017. Effective February 4, Cox was succeeded by Cindy Perettie, who was previously senior vice president for global oncology product strategy at Roche Oncology.

Roche acquired full ownership of Foundation Medicine last year for $2.4 billion, expanding on its majority stake, in a deal that signaled the pharma giant’s growing interest in personalized oncology treatments as well as diagnostics.

Kafka is one of seven executives and board members listed on the registration filing, first reported by STAT News. The other six include Dina Ciarimboli, general counsel at Third Rock Ventures who joined the firm in 2014; and five people listed as board members of Thrive Sciences:

  • Alexis Borisy, a partner with Third Rock Ventures since 2009 who served as a board member, co-founder and former interim CEO of Foundation Medicine.
  • Kenneth Kinzler, Ph.D., Director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins University’s Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Christopher Lengauer, Ph.D., another partner with Third Rock Ventures who serves as chief scientific officer of Celsius Therapeutics, and
  • Nickolas Papadopoulos, Ph.D., professor of oncology and pathology, and Director of Translational Genetics at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Michael Pellini, M.D., a former CEO of Foundation Medicine from 2011-2017 when he became the company’s chairman. He is managing partner for the tech and life-science-based venture capital fund Section 32.

Borisy is executive chairman of Celsius Therapeutics and Relay Therapeutics, the latter a company he co-founded and served as interim CEO. He is chairman of Tango Therapeutics, a former chairman and interim CEO of Warp Drive Bio, a co-founder and former board member of Editas Medicine, and serves on the boards of Blueprint Medicines, Magenta Therapeutics (which he also co-founded and served as interim CEO), and Revolution Medicine. Borisy also founded CombinatoRx in 2000, serving as its CEO and bringing the company public on NASDAQ.

Kinzler coined the term “transcriptome” for referring to genes that are transcribed at a particular point in time, after he invented SAGE (Serial Analysis of Gene Expression) in the mid-1990s, allowing the first comprehensive analysis of gene expression in human cancer.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kinzler invented digital PCR and other digital genomics approaches for the detection of trace levels of tumor DNA. Early in the 1990s, he led scientists in the identification and analysis of the APC gene, the most frequently mutated tumor suppressor gene in colon cancer.

Lengauer joined Third Rock from Blueprint Medicines, where he was chief scientific officer and chief drug hunter. He joined Blueprint Medicines from Sanofi, where he was vice president and global head of oncology drug discovery and preclinical development. Before Sanofi, he was executive director and senior unit head of oncology discovery at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.

Papadopoulos leads a team at the Kimmel Cancer Center that is developing a sensitive test for mitosis by interrogating each individual’s molecule sample in patients with early-stage cancer. A co-discoverer of the genetic basis of the predisposition to hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), Papadopoulos is known for the development of diagnostic tests and is considered an expert in cancer genetics and diagnostics.

Papadopoulos was part of the interdisciplinary team that was first to sequence all of the protein coding genes, determine genetic alterations, and construct expression profiles of four common tumor types.  Later, he was involved in the identification of genetic alterations that drive tumorigenesis in multiple tumor types.

Pellini is a physician with more than 20 years of executive experience at companies specializing in clinical diagnostics and genomics. He currently serves as a board member for Tango Therapeutics, Singular Genomics, Adaptive Biotechnologies, Octave Health, Vineti, the Personalized Medicine Coalition, and the Mission Hospital Foundation, in addition to chairing Foundation Medicine and being managing partner of Section 32.

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