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Why Steve Kafka Left Third Rock Ventures for Up-and-Comer Section 32

Xconomy San Diego — 

Section 32, which invests in healthcare and life sciences companies with a technology component, has added a third managing partner.

The small venture capital firm was started in San Diego about two years ago by Bill Maris, who, during his time at Google, founded and led its corporate venture capital arm, now part of parent company Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL).

Former Foundation Medicine CEO Mike Pellini who, like Maris, lives in Southern California, became a managing partner at the new firm within months of its launch.

On Tuesday, Section 32 announced that Pellini’s former colleague, Steve Kafka, had joined as managing partner. The two spent years together as executives at Foundation Medicine, taking it through an initial public offering and its eventual acquisition by Roche.

The move comes not much more than a year after Kafka joined another investment firm, Boston’s Third Rock Ventures, which, since its 2007 launch, has built its reputation around its practice of starting life science companies from scratch. (Third Rock co-founder and partner Mike Levin received Xconomy’s 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award in September.)

While at Third Rock, Kafka played a key role in creating and launching Cambridge, MA-based cancer diagnostics company Thrive Earlier Detection. He’ll remain that company’s executive chairman, as well as in the same role at ArcherDX, where he was appointed to lead the board earlier this year.

Leaving Third Rock for Section 32 was a notion first floated by Pellini, Kafka tells Xconomy. The two had begun working together closely again in conjunction with Section 32’s participation in the $110 million Series A round backing Thrive’s launch in May.

“We were sitting down one afternoon, and he basically said, look, I have an idea I want to run by you,” Kafka says. “We’re thinking about how we grow and expand the footprint of Section 32.”

He was delighted by the opportunity to team up once more with his former boss—and to have a hand in shaping the future of a relatively nascent, growing VC firm.

“I hope we are all lucky enough in our career to have a small handful of people that we would love to work with over and over again, and he’s one of those people for me,” Kafka says.

The addition makes him the firm’s anchor in Boston, giving it representation on the East Coast in addition to its California roots.

At Foundation Medicine, Kafka most recently served as president and chief operating officer; he was also chief business officer for a time. Previously he held leadership positions at oncology-focused drug discovery and development companies Aileron Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ALRN), Infinity Pharmaceuticals, and Millennium Pharmaceuticals, which is now part of Takeda (NYSE: TAK). Before that he worked as a life sciences consultant.

So far Section 32—the firm’s name is a Star Trek reference—has raised about $400 million and invested in more than 40 companies. A few have already been acquired or entered the public markets, including Alector (NASDAQ: ALEC), Fulcrum Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FULC), and Auris Health, which is now part of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ).