Drug Development, Immuno-oncology

$42M in, Flagship startups merge into one immuno-microbiome platform with multiple targets

What happens when you combine two startups with a novel take on revving up and slowing down the immune system? You get a new company called Evelo Biosciences with its own twist on two hot fields: immuno-oncology and the microbiome.

Simba Gill, Elevo CEO

Simba Gill, Evelo CEO, courtesy of Flagship Ventures

“We each ID’d bacteria and bacterial combinations having a profound impact on the immune system, but from different directions,” says Simba Gill, the CEO of the combined operation, which is folding the smaller Epiva Therapeutics into Evelo. Both were seed companies started in Flagship VentureLabs, spending more than two years in stealth mode under the VC’s wing, where Gill is also a partner on the venture side.

The new Evelo is both bigger and further along on the preclinical side than it may sound at first blush. The combined company now has 42 staffers, with $40 million of committed financing and enough left to get 12 to 18 months down the road, says the CEO.

That’s enough time to get at least two programs into the clinic next year; ideally including one aiming at a new approach to immuno-oncology with the other in the autoimmune/inflammatory arena. It’s also enough time to put together another syndicate for the next round of financing, looking beyond Flagship’s deep pockets for some added R&D money.

It simply made sense to combine the startup into one organization, says Gill. Aiming to create “the definitive company in the space,” as he puts it, both companies had been working independently on similar platform capabilities. It’s not easy running a cell-based assay on anaerobic bacteria, he notes, and bringing the groups together creates some nice synergies to improve the work and broaden the platform to a long list of potential programs reaching across multiple cancers and autoimmune/inflammatory conditions.

It also helped that Gill, Flagship chairman Noubar Afeyan, and fellow partner David Berry all had the same line of sight view on the potential, for a company in which Flagship still controls all of the skin in the game.

Mark Pruzanski, the co-founder and CEO of Intercept Pharmaceuticals, David Perry, CEO and president of Indigo Agriculture, are joining Afeyan, Gill, and Berry on the board. Coming on staff is Jackie Papkoff, senior vice president, research, new CMO Anil Jina and Derek Adams, senior vice president, CMC.

From here you can expect the company to start making the kind of classic moves you’d expect from a biotech startup: industry partnerships for some nondilutive funding and added R&D support, a broader base of backers and some early opportunities to establish that you’re on the right track.

That’s still a risky proposition, but Gill says Evelo has the potential to “go all the way.”

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