Warp Drive Bio Launches With $125M from Third Rock, Greylock, Sanofi

Xconomy Boston — 

Today a new company called Warp Drive Bio is starting up in Cambridge, MA, with a simple and powerful premise: Mother Nature may be the best source of blockbuster drugs—if only we can find new methods for unlocking her secrets. Warp Drive’s plan is to use genomics technology incubated at Boston-based Third Rock Ventures to discover new “natural products,” which are therapies derived from plants, animals, and other wild organisms.

Warp Drive is being launched with $125 million in funding from Third Rock and French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi (NYSE: SNY). Greylock Partners also participated in the financing. Warp Drive was co-founded by Greg Verdine, a Harvard University chemical biologist and venture partner at Third Rock, along with Harvard University genomics expert George Church, and biolochemist James Wells of the University of California at San Francisco.

The startup’s business model is distinctive in that Warp Drive will remain fully independent. It will retain rights to many of the assets it develops, and even have the freedom to pursue other partnerships beyond its Sanofi alliance. The funding is tranched, and contingent upon Warp Drive reaching milestones in developing the technology and proving it works.

Perhaps what’s most unusual about the deal is that it’s set up to ensure that Sanofi will acquire Warp Drive if certain milestones are reached. “Sanofi doesn’t just have the option to buy, they have the obligation,” says Alexis Borisy, a Third Rock partner (pictured at right) who is serving as interim chief executive officer of Warp Drive. “That decreases the financing risk for Warp Drive, and it decreases the liquidity risk for the VCs. We’re not at the whim of the IPO market.”

Warp Drive refers to its core platform as a “genomic search engine.” The company’s ultimate goal is to develop the technology to the point where it will be able to comb through naturally derived substances—such as plants and soil—and sequence the genomes … Next Page »

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