Exclusive: Evelo CEO Talks Company Launch, $35 Million Funding Round
Published: Nov 04, 2015
November 4, 2015
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Simba Gill, Evelo Therapeutics’ new chief executive officer, spoke with BioSpace in an exclusive interview. Evelo Therapeutics, a new oncology company looking to develop microbiome therapies for the treatment of cancer, launched today backed by a $35 million investment from Flagship VentureLabs.
The new company, based in Cambridge, Mass., is pioneering Oncobiotic therapeutics, a little explored area of immune-oncology that is seeking to harness cancer-associated bacteria (CAB) and bacterial immune activators to provide new insights into cancer metabolism and ultimately develop treatments for solid tumors. The microbiome is the collection of trillions of microbes that live in and on the human body. In recent years, scientists have found that the microbiome plays a crucial role in many areas of human biology and disease, CEO Simba Gill said to BioSpace. Biological therapy uses natural or artificial substances that mimic or block natural cell responses to kill, control or change the behavior of cancer cells. Evelo will develop a next-generation approach to immuno-oncology that goes beyond check-point inhibitors and CAR-T cell therapies.
“What drew me to Evelo as the potential for the microbiomes to be used in the treatment of cancer,” Gill said.
Gill said medical history has shown that cancer patients who develop bacterial infections can go into a form of remission while their body’s immune system deals with the bacteria.
“Now we’re seeing cancer immune-therapy driven from bacterial activation of the immune system …only we’re able to do that now using scientific tools,” he added.
Unlike previously thought, Gill said all solid-tumors have cancer-associated bacteria, which can be targeted to treat those cancers. Gill said the company has identified a number of preclinical candidates that has the potential to treat a number of different cancers, including lung and melanomas. What those candidates are though, Gill said Evelo was withholding that information for now, but predicted the company would be making several announcements about its pipeline soon.
Before helping found Evelo, Gill previously served as CEO of moksha8, a Latin American pharmaceutical company focused on central nervous system disorders. He was the founding president of Maxygen, the pioneer in directed molecular evolution technologies for pharmaceutical, chemical and agricultural products. Before Maxygen, Gill led corporate development in Systemix, the stem cell company later acquired by Novartis. Prior to that, he served as global marketing director for Recormon, a treatment for anemia, at Boehringer Mannheim, later acquired by Roche.
Although Evelo formally launched today, Gill said the company has been working in a proto-company phase under the auspices of Flagship VentureLabs. That means the company will be able to hit the ground running and use the $35 million in financing to advance its microbiome research as well as develop a database of cancer bacteria that will allow researchers to understand how the bacteria change and effect the tumors through the various stages.
Other pharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca, Juno Therapeutics, bluebird bio, Celgene Corporation and Nektar Therapeutics are pursuing immune-oncology therapeutics, mostly based onchimeric antigen receptor and high-affinity T cell receptor technologies to genetically engineer T cells to recognize and kill cancer. CAR T therapies appear to be particularly effective for leukemia and other blood cancers, with some researchers going so far as to call them cures. Studies have shown these treatments to eliminate all evidence of leukemia and lymphoma in anywhere from 40 percent to 90 percent of patients.
Gill touted the effectiveness of CAR T research, but said the possibilities of the microbiome means the company can develop multiple therapies for multiple solid tumors.
Evelo sprung out of the incubator program fostered by Flagship VentureLabs, an arm of Flagship Ventures. Flagship Ventures has launched several biotech and pharmaceutical companies, including Seres Therapeutics, Pronutria Biosciences and Moderna Therapeutics. Evelo has moved into its new lab and office space in Cambridge, but has opted to not disclose the number of employees it currently has. But, like the promise of forthcoming pipeline news, Gill said the company will be making some announcements about hiring. Still, Evelo did disclose members of the executive board, including co-founders David Berry and Noubar Afeyan, both partners at Flagship VentureLabs.
Seres launched in June also with a focus on developing therapies based on the microbiome. Researchers at Seres are using their understanding of the microbiome to pioneer Ecobiotic therapeutics, the first class of agents that addresses the ecological nature of the microbiome.