Former CombinatoRx CEO Alexis Borisy Lands at Third Rock Ventures, Launches New Startup

2/11/10

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personalized medicine, which he defines as “getting the right therapies to the right patients at the right time.” This can mean developing a drug that is tailored for patients with certain genetic traits, such as Roche-Genentech’s breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin), which is only used to treat patients who express the HER2 gene. Another example of personalized medicine could be a diagnostics company that develops tests that show whether certain patients are likely to respond to a particular treatment. Still, Borisy isn’t disclosing exactly what Foundation Medicine is doing in personalized medicine. (He also wouldn’t say whether the startup is raising money or not, but given his current role at a venture capital firm, he probably won’t have to look far for at least seed funds.)

One of the things that Borisy did prodigiously at CombinatoRx—-especially in its early years—was raise venture dollars. The company, which develops new treatments based on combinations of known drugs, raised $90 million in three round of venture financing between 2000 and 2004, Borisy says. During those years, venture firms were investing huge amounts of money in biotech firms, he says.

But times have changed. Many venture firms paid a toll for making lots of large investments in biotech startups, earning poor returns or loosing money when the majority of them proved unworthy of the huge sums invested in them. A big challenge for today’s biotech entrepreneurs is that many venture outfits have moved away from making risky bets on brand new biotech startups, conserving their capital for later-stage companies.

Nonetheless, Third Rock has found ample opportunities in recent years to launch new companies with top-notch entrepreneurs and science behind them. The crop of Third Rock-backed startups includes Zafgen, a developer of novel obesity treatments, Agios Pharmaceuticals, which aims to advance treatments that deprive cancer cells of nutrients, and Seventh Sense Biosystems, which has talked about providing sensors worn on the body to monitor certain conditions. (Luke has previously profiled Third Rock’s investment strategy.)

“It’s the bold thinking, the bold new ideas, and the bold vision to create companies that can transform patient care,” Borisy says. “That’s what I have a passion for, and that’s what Third Rock and Mark [Levin] and the other partners have a passion for.”

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