Goldfinch Bio set out to build a database of patients with kidney diseases, which it could study to understand the biology and genetics of kidney disorders in order to develop better drugs. The biotech startup is making headway on its research and its approach now has some outside validation. Gilead Sciences is partnering with Goldfinch to find more kidney disease drugs.
According to deal terms announced Wednesday, Foster City, CA-based Gilead (NASDAQ: GILD) is paying $55 million up front, a sum that includes a $5 million equity investment in privately held Goldfinch. Gilead will pay an additional $54 million to support the Cambridge, MA, biotech’s work finding new drugs to treat diabetic kidney disease.
The alliance with Gilead also encompasses rare kidney disorders, but more specific details weren’t disclosed. Goldfinch could receive up to $1.95 billion in additional payments depending on the progress of the first five programs that come from the partnership.
Goldfinch’s kidney patient database, called the Kidney Genome Atlas, allows the company to analyze the genetic data of patients who have focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), which is scarring in the kidney that affects the glomeruli, the tiny units in the organ that filter and clean blood. Goldfinch also analyzes urine and tissue samples from patients. The analysis helps Goldfinch identify targets for its drugs and CEO Tony Johnson says it differentiates his company from others developing kidney-disease drugs.
“There’s been a significant failure in large and small companies in programs focused in the kidney in the past several years, and that’s primarily because of not using genetics,” Johnson says.
Goldfinch’s research has been focused on rare kidney diseases; its pipeline includes two drugs, GFB-887 and GFB-024, which are each in preclinical development for FSGS. The company holds all rights to both drugs, which are not covered in the Gilead R&D pact.
Under the partnership with Gilead, Goldfinch will expand its platform to include diabetic kidney disease. The disorder, also known as diabetic nephropathy, develops in approximately 40 percent of patients who are diabetic. As the condition worsens, patients may require dialysis. The most serious cases require a kidney transplant.
The research agreement calls for Goldfinch to lead discovery and development work until Gilead exercises its option to pick up rights to a program. At that point, Gilead will take over development, and if approved, commercialization. Under the deal, Goldfinch has the option to share in profits from drugs that reach the market addressing unspecified kidney disorders. Development costs for those products will be shared by both companies.
Goldfinch’s deal with Gilead is focused on specific kidney diseases, but the startup isn’t stopping there. Johnson says his company could strike up additional discovery and development alliances targeting other diseases affecting the kidney. Likewise, Gilead isn’t placing all of its kidney bets on Goldfinch. Late last year, Gilead inked a research pact with Scholar Rock (NASDAQ: SRRK) focused on developing treatments for fibrosis—the scarring and dysfunction of organs including the lungs, liver, and kidneys.
Here’s more on the origins of Goldfinch, which incubated within venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures before emerging in 2016.