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Third Rock launches cancer-fighting startup

Third Rock Ventures, a prominent Boston life sciences investor, has launched a cancer-fighting startup with funding from two other investors.

The funders are investing $55 million in Neon Therapeutics, a Cambridge company that will capitalize on research from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute. Neon’s lead program is a personalized vaccine the company hopes can train the immune system to attack tumors.

The company was formed to advance treatments based on neoantigens, which are proteins produced by cancer cells that vary by patient and by cancer type, according to a news release. Neon’s focus on developing a personalized vaccine, referred to as NEO-PV-01, makes it one of many firms in the field of precision medicine, which could improve cancer treatment but is still not fully understood.


“If this is really effective and safe for patients...there’s going to be a pathway forward to commercialize a product like this,” said Dr. Cary Pfeffer, a Third Rock partner and Neon’s interim chief executive. He said the funding would sustain the company for “a couple of years, and at least through some key clinical and scientific milestones” on NEO-PV-01 and other products in its developmental pipeline.

Pfeffer said Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute were “partners,” but declined to provide details on their business arrangement. He said the company was hiring senior and junior employees, including a permanent chief executive and its own research staff. Neon’s seven co-founders include the head of the Broad Institute, Eric Lander, and Ed Fritsch, a research executive who had worked on neoantigen research at Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute, Pfeffer said.

In addition to Third Rock Ventures, other investors include Access Industries and its subsidiary Clal Biotechnology Industries, which are affiliated with businessman Len Blavatnik. Blavatnik has also been a donor to Dana-Farber and the Broad Institute.


Jack Newsham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.