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Drug startup Tango will focus on cancers with no treatments

Third Rock Ventures, one of the Boston area’s most prolific engines of biotech innovation, launched a cancer drug company in Cambridge on Thursday that will focus on conditions for which there are no treatments.

The startup, Tango Therapeutics, has had about a dozen scientists working in stealth mode since last fall in space leased from the gene-editing drug developer Editas Medicine, at 11 Hurley St. near the Cambridgeside Galleria.

On Thursday, Tango disclosed an initial funding round of $55 million from Third Rock, a Boston venture capital firm. Third Rock is also backing more than a half-dozen other local cancer drug startups, including Bluebird Bio, Blueprint Medicines, Relay Therapeutics, and Neon Therapeutics.


Tango will use technologies such as DNA sequencing and Crispr-Cas9 — a gene-editing tool — to gauge which tumors will respond to specific medicines.

“We’re building a platform-based drug-discovery company,” said interim chief executive Barbara Weber, who is also a venture partner at Third Rock. Weber declined to say what types of cancers Tango will target. “What we’re really going after is areas of unmet patient needs,” she said.

Weber said Tango plans to use the Third Rock cash to expand rapidly, more than doubling its research staff by the end of 2017. Among other things, the researchers will be experimenting with a process known as synthetic lethality, which seeks to focus on the loss of tumor-suppressing genes.

They’ll also test the effectiveness of combining drugs to fight cancer and boosting the potency of current immuno-oncology drugs by targeting genetic alterations that help cancer cells to avoid being destroyed by the body’s immune system.

“The concept is to use new tools to open up a whole new space for cancer targeting,” said Weber, who worked on cancer research earlier in her career at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and at the pharmaceutical companies Novartis AG and GlaxoSmithKline PLC.


Weber and Cary Pfeffer, a Third Rock partner serving as Tango’s chief business officer, will work to get the startup running and start its drug research programs. Eventually, they’ll turn it over to full-time managers.

Pfeffer said Tango could seek a broad partnership with a single biopharma company, or it might forge collaborations with several companies interested in drugs to fight specific types of cancers.

“There are multiple paths we could go down,” he said.

Robert Weisman can be reached at robert.weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.