Xiling Shen (Xilis)

A Mubadala-backed biotech is us­ing pa­tient tu­mor tis­sue grown in a petri dish to change pre­ci­sion on­col­o­gy

As Duke pro­fes­sor Xil­ing Shen tells it, the idea for his new biotech Xilis dates all the way back to 2009. Shen taught at Cor­nell at the time, re­search­ing cir­cuit de­sign in the uni­ver­si­ty’s bio­engi­neer­ing de­part­ment, when he came across a pa­per from Dutch bi­ol­o­gist Hans Clevers about a tech­nol­o­gy called “organoids,” or tis­sue cul­tures made up of “3D gel.”

Shen tells End­points News he saw the ther­a­peu­tic po­ten­tial here, al­low­ing sci­en­tists to test drugs on re­al pa­tient tis­sue in petri dish­es in what would be a first, but al­so won­dered about the lim­i­ta­tions of such tech­nol­o­gy. Could this process be ac­com­plished quick­ly and cheap­ly? And how chal­leng­ing would it be to scale up the tech to the point where it could be wide­ly used?

Ay­man Al­Ab­dal­lah

The lim­i­ta­tions have os­ten­si­bly been over­come enough to re­cruit blue-chip sov­er­eign wealth fund Mubadala to lead a $70 mil­lion Se­ries A for the biotech, putting a seal of ap­proval on the plat­form Shen be­lieves will trans­form the pre­ci­sion ther­a­py space. Us­ing organoid tech­nol­o­gy, Xilis is aim­ing to an­a­lyze pa­tients’ tu­mors in their na­tive mi­croen­vi­ron­ments in or­der to pro­vide more per­son­al­ized and bet­ter tar­get­ed can­cer treat­ments.

In the can­cer space, where it can be dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how any giv­en ther­a­py might work for each in­di­vid­ual pa­tient, mod­el­ing tools like these are go­ing to be among the next wave of in­no­v­a­tive tech­nolo­gies, Mubadala in­vestor Ay­man Al­Ab­dal­lah said.

“Less than one out of 10 can­cer drugs make it to mar­ket,” Al­Ab­dal­lah told End­points. “The con­nect­ed prob­lem here is once a drug is ap­proved it does not nec­es­sar­i­ly ben­e­fit all the pa­tients it’s ad­min­is­tered to … un­der­ly­ing this chal­lenge or bar­ri­er is the lack of tools to pre­cise­ly mod­el hu­man dis­ease out­side the body.”

Shen had help bring­ing the tech­nol­o­gy to where it is to­day, he says. In 2014 he met co-founder David Hsu, a GI clin­i­cian at Duke, and the two teamed up. The per­spec­tive Hsu brought work­ing with pa­tients helped shape their shared vi­sion, and Shen moved his lab to Duke in 2015 to bet­ter fo­cus on build­ing out the plat­form.

Hans Clevers

Things came to a head in 2019 when Clevers vis­it­ed Duke to give a keynote speech. Shen and Hsu grabbed lunch with Clevers af­ter­wards, and Clevers not­ed some of the same lim­i­ta­tions Shen said he’d thought of all those years ear­li­er. By the next morn­ing, af­ter lis­ten­ing to how Shen worked to try over­com­ing them, Clevers agreed to join the com­pa­ny.

At the heart of Xilis is a sim­ple, key con­cept: By tak­ing a piece of a pa­tient’s tu­mor tis­sue and grow­ing it as an organoid in a petri dish, Shen says re­searchers can test thou­sands of ther­a­pies or drug com­bi­na­tions to see how the tu­mor might re­act. By mod­el­ing tu­mors in such a way, Xilis can al­so get clin­i­cian in­put for how they’d pre­fer to treat their pa­tients.

“It’s not just the cells but the in­volve­ment of the tu­mor, in­clud­ing im­mune cells, that’s re­al­ly mim­ic­k­ing the en­tire en­vi­ron­ment,” Shen told End­points. “For phar­ma, it’s al­so a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage be­cause we’re the first that can en­cap­su­late the tu­mor with its orig­i­nal im­mune en­vi­ron­ment out­side the body.”

The sci­en­tists got start­ed with a seed round back in No­vem­ber 2019 and start­ed look­ing for the Se­ries A this past April af­ter re­cruit­ing sev­er­al part­ners in the phar­ma space to use their tech­nol­o­gy. Xilis doesn’t have its own pipeline yet, but Shen says the biotech is cur­rent­ly fo­cused on help­ing these com­pa­nies com­plete their re­search faster.

And the organoids can be used at any stage of the dis­cov­ery process, Shen adds, from the pre­clin­i­cal stage to in-hu­man tri­als. That could help bio­phar­mas de­sign smarter clin­i­cal tri­als down the road if they have a bet­ter idea of how their ex­per­i­men­tal drugs work.

For now, Xilis plans to use the cash to fur­ther de­vel­op the plat­form and its AI ca­pa­bil­i­ties, as well as re­cruit­ing more part­ners. If every­thing goes ac­cord­ing to plan, the biotech hopes to shake up dif­fer­ent kinds of treat­ments across the cell ther­a­py space, Shen said.

“The en­tire field right now faces a big chal­lenge dif­fer­ent from con­ven­tion­al drugs,” Shen said. “But these are very high­ly in­di­vid­u­al­ized ther­a­pies. How do you know you’ve en­gi­neered T cells that treat as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble? So we are pro­vid­ing the first en­abling tech­nolo­gies to test en­gi­neered T cells on the same pa­tients’ tu­mor be­fore they put it in­to the pa­tients.”

Thurs­day’s Se­ries A was joined by new in­vestors in­clud­ing GV, LSP, Catalio Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, and Duke An­gel Net­work. Cur­rent in­vestors Fe­li­cis Ven­tures, Two Sig­ma Ven­tures, Pear VC, KdT Ven­tures, and Al­ix Ven­tures al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed.

A new era of treat­ment: How bio­mark­ers are chang­ing the way we think about can­cer

AJ Patel was recovering from a complicated brain surgery when his oncologist burst into the hospital room yelling, “I’ve got some really great news for you!”

For two years, Patel had been going from doctor to doctor trying to diagnose his wheezing, only to be dealt the devastating news that he had stage IV lung cancer and only six months to live. And then they found the brain tumors.

“What are you talking about?” Patel asked. He had never seen an oncologist so happy.

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Katrine Bosley (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

For­mer Ed­i­tas CEO Ka­trine Bosley goes the VC route, join­ing ear­ly-stage in­vestor

More than three years after abruptly exiting Editas Medicine, Katrine Bosley is leaping to the venture capital side of things.

London-based early-stage investor Advent Life Sciences announced Thursday that Bosley is joining the firm as venture partner. It’s also adding two general partners to the team: Dominic Schmidt, formerly of Syncona, will be in the UK; and Satish Jindal, most recently the CEO of investment fund BioMotiv, will be based in Boston, just like Bosley.

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Serhat Gumrukçu, Enochian BioSciences co-founder (Seraph Research Institute)

LA biotech founder ar­rest­ed, charged in mur­der-for-hire scheme be­hind 2018 death

A biotech founder has been arrested and charged for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the death of a man in Vermont back in 2018.

Serhat Gumrukçu, the co-founder of Enochian BioSciences, was arrested in Los Angeles, where the company is based, according to the Department of Justice. He was charged alongside Berk Eratay of Las Vegas, and a third person, Jerry Banks of Colorado, was previously arrested for kidnapping and allegedly murdering the victim, Gregory Davis.

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Adam Russell, ARPA-H's incoming acting deputy director

NI­H's new, in­de­pen­dent break­through drug ac­cel­er­a­tor ARPA-H gets its first em­ploy­ee

Despite the controversy of housing it in NIH, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday afternoon formally announced the establishment of the Advanced Research Project Agency for Health (ARPA-H) as an independent entity within the NIH, as HHS had previously stipulated that “NIH may not subject ARPA-H to NIH policies.”

Becerra also announced the appointment of ARPA-H’s inaugural employee, Adam Russell, who will serve as acting deputy director.

ProFound Therapeutics founding team

Flag­ship's lat­est biotech could turn some of the thou­sands of new pro­teins it dis­cov­ered in­to ther­a­pies — and it has $75M to start

Flagship Pioneering, the incubator of Moderna and dozens of other biotechs, says it has landed upon tens of thousands of previously undiscovered human proteins. The VC shop wants to potentially turn them into therapeutics.

Like other drug developers that have turned proteins into therapeutics (think insulin for diabetes), Flagship’s latest creation, ProFound Therapeutics, wants to tap into this new trove of proteins as part of its mission to treat indications ranging from rare diseases to cancer to immunological diseases.

Richard Silverman, Akava Therapeutics founder and Northwestern professor

This time around, Lyri­ca's in­ven­tor is de­vel­op­ing his North­west­ern dis­cov­er­ies at his own biotech

Richard Silverman was left in the dark for the last five years of clinical development of the drug he discovered. The Northwestern University professor found out about the first approval of Lyrica, in the last few days of 2004, like most other people: in the newspaper.

What became one of Pfizer’s top-selling meds, at $5 billion in 2017 global sales before losing patent protection in 2019, started slipping out of his hands when Northwestern licensed it out to Parke-Davis, one of two biotechs that showed interest in developing the drug in the pre-email days, when the university’s two-person tech transfer team had to ship out letters to garner industry appetite.

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David Ricks, Eli Lilly CEO (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Eli Lil­ly set to in­vest $2.1B in home state man­u­fac­tur­ing boost

Eli Lilly is looking to expand its footprint in its home Hoosier State by making a major investment in manufacturing.

The pharma is investing $2.1 billion in two new manufacturing sites at Indiana’s LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District in Boone County, northwest of Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis.

The two new facilities will expand Lilly’s manufacturing network for active ingredients and new therapeutic modalities, including genetic medicines, according to a press release.

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Up­dat­ed: US sees spike in Paxlovid us­age as Mer­ck­'s mol­nupi­ravir and As­traZeneca's Evusheld are slow­er off the shelf

New data from HHS show that more than 162,000 courses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid were administered across the US over the past week, continuing a streak of increased usage of the pill, and signaling not only rising case numbers but more awareness of how to access it.

In comparison to this week, about 670,000 courses of the Pfizer pill have been administered across the first five months since Paxlovid has been on the US market, averaging about 33,000 courses administered per week in that time.

Pfiz­er and CD­MOs ramp up Paxlovid man­u­fac­tur­ing with Kala­ma­zoo plant ex­pan­sion lead­ing the way

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve, pharma companies and manufacturers are exploring how to step up production on antivirals.

Pfizer is planning to expand its Kalamazoo-area facility to increase manufacturing capabilities for the oral Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid, according to a report from Michigan-based news site MLive. The expansion of the facility, which serves as Pfizer’s largest manufacturing location, is expected to create hundreds of “high-skilled” STEM jobs, MLive reported. No details about the project’s cost and timeline have been released, but according to MLive, Pfizer will announce the details of the expansion at some point in early June.

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