Former Biogen Exec’s Startup Codiak BioSciences Bags Another $61 Million, Totaling $92 Million for Exosome Research

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January 26, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Cambridge, Mass.-based Codiak BioSciences Inc. announced today that it has closed on its Series B financing round worth $61 million. With the combined proceeds from its Series A and B financing, which were announced in Nov. 2015, the company has raised $92 million to date.

Both Series A and B rounds were co-led by ARCH Venture Partners and Flagship Ventures. Alaska Permanent Fund, Alexandria Venture Investments and Fidelity Management and Research Company joined.

“This financing is a strong indication of the promise of exosomes to improve human health,” said Douglas Williams, Codiak’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “With these additional resources we will continue to build our world-class team to realize the broad transformative potential of exosomes for multiple therapeutic and diagnostic uses.”

Williams was previous head of research for Biogen . He was at Biogen from 2011 through 2015. Prior to Biogen, Williams was at Seattle Genetics , Amgen and Immunex .

Codiak BioSciences focuses on exosomes. They were discovered about 35 years ago, and for some time have been considered to be the cells’ garbage cans whose job was to carry unnecessary cellular materials out of the cell. “However, Clotilde Thery wrote in a 2011 TheScientist article, “evidence has begun to accumulate that these dumpsters also act as messengers, actually conveying information to distant tissues. Exosomes contain cell-specific payloads of proteins, lipids, and genetic material that are transported to other cells, where they alter function and physiology.”

Although diagnostics is likely based on what the exosomes bring out of the cells, it’s their messaging and transfer role that shows promise for drug development and delivery. As described in a November 2015 article in Forbes, “Exosomes can carry drug payloads, in the form of messenger RNA molecules, microRNAs, antibody fragments, or even whole antibodies to a specific site, Williams said. These small vesicles can get inside cells a couple different ways, and dump their payloads in the cell’s cytoplasm.”

Codiak’s technology is based on research from the laboratories of Raghu Kalluri, chairman of the department of cancer biology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Tex. The company was co-founded by Eric Lander, president and founding director of Harvard and MIT’s Broad Institute.

Kalluri’s work, and that of Codiak’s, is currently focused on developing a blood test to detect early-stage pancreatic cancer. Kalluri’s research was published in the journal Nature, and suggested that a protein found on cancer exosomes was found in the blood of pancreatic cancer patients, but was not found in people without pancreatic cancer or who had chronic pancreatitis.

Exosomes would seem to have much broader applications than just pancreatic cancer, if specific exosomes and biomarkers can be identified that are associated with specific diseases. Williams has indicated that Codiak’s initial focus is exosome-based drugs and diagnostics for pancreatic cancer. It expects to have its first drug candidate ready for clinical trials in 2017. Williams speculates that the research has potential for tissue regeneration, immunotherapy, or fending off infectious diseases.