Af­ter rais­ing $100M, Google-backed Evelo looks to blaze a new trail with mon­o­clon­al mi­cro­bials

Sim­ba Gill has al­ways want­ed, in his own words, “to build one great, ful­ly-in­te­grat­ed biotech com­pa­ny.”

And now he’s tak­ing his shot with Evelo Bio­sciences.

To­day, Gill and his crew of 50 are tak­ing the wraps off a $50 mil­lion in­vest­ment round, which brings the to­tal raised so far to $100 mil­lion. That’s enough mon­ey for Evelo — an ear­ly-stage com­bi­na­tion of two fledg­lings in­cu­bat­ed by Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing that were both tack­ling the same ob­jec­tive from op­po­site ends of the dis­ease spec­trum — to take a gi­ant step in­to the clin­ic with a slate of at least five pro­grams that will each look to demon­strate that a par­tic­u­lar mi­cro­bial strain can act to ac­cel­er­ate or brake an im­mune sys­tem at­tack.

It starts with can­cer, look­ing to open a new chap­ter in im­muno-on­col­o­gy that can fol­low the check­point pi­o­neers. And it goes off in­to a va­ri­ety of au­toim­mune con­di­tions and dis­ease types that Gill un­abashed­ly be­lieves will lay the ground­work for a rad­i­cal new ap­proach to drug de­vel­op­ment.

Flag­ship founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan

Any­one fa­mil­iar with Mod­er­na and the way Flag­ship’s Noubar Afeyan is build­ing com­pa­nies will rec­og­nize the mod­el in­stant­ly. The goal here is to pro­vide enough cash to prove a new plat­form tech can work pro­duc­ing key proof-of-con­cept da­ta.

“It’s re­al­ly start­ing to bear fruit,” says Kr­ish­na Yesh­want, the gen­er­al part­ner at GV — for­mer­ly Google Ven­tures — who is deeply im­pressed with Evelo’s pre­clin­i­cal ev­i­dence to back up the ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect of spe­cif­ic strains of gut mi­crobes – a far cry from the rather “vague” da­ta he’s seen be­hind the first wave of mi­cro­bio­me com­pa­nies in the clin­ic.

Kr­ish­na Yesh­want, GV

Make no mis­take, Gill and Yesh­want and all the back­ers are wait­ing to see what comes from the first wave of mi­cro­bio­me com­pa­nies in the clin­ic. But they clear­ly be­lieve that they’ve now reached the thresh­old where they can start to dis­tin­guish what they are af­ter com­pared to the ear­ly pi­o­neers in gut bi­ol­o­gy. Join­ing GV, Flag­ship and Cel­gene Ven­tures are the Mayo Clin­ic, al­ready strate­gi­cal­ly aligned with Evelo on the work, and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments.

“It is un­be­liev­ably clear that check­point in­hibitors are go­ing to be come se­mi-com­modi­tized,” Gill tells me about the first and sec­ond and third wave of PD-(L)1 in­hibitors now break­ing in­to the mar­ket. By tak­ing the lead on mon­o­clon­al mi­cro­bials in the gut, Evelo be­lieves it can clear­ly dis­tin­guish its own work while map­ping out an ear­ly-leader ad­van­tage in a brand new are­na of im­muno-on­col­o­gy.

It is, he adds, “at least as broad­ly ap­plic­a­ble as mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies and po­ten­tial­ly much broad­er.”

Those are bold words, and Gill says he’s ready to start back­ing it up with hard hu­man da­ta, look­ing for an ear­ly lead in on­col­o­gy and quick­ly ex­pand­ing the scope with drugs that tar­get im­muno-in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions. Can­cer, he says, is an ob­vi­ous pick, but Gill and Evelo are keep­ing mum on their first shorts in au­toim­mune and au­to-in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions  — for now.

“Our goal is for every sin­gle can­cer pa­tient to get a mon­o­clon­al mi­cro­bial,” says Gill. Along the way, he’s al­so ex­pect­ing some ma­jor col­lab­o­ra­tions with bio­phar­ma part­ners to fol­low.

Gill and his grow­ing crew still need to prove that what they are do­ing will work in hu­mans, as it has in mouse stud­ies, but they’re bet­ting $100 mil­lion that what they’ve seen so far proves it can be big.

It’s a big gam­ble, and one that Gill clear­ly rel­ish­es.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.

Saurabh Saha at Endpoints News' #BIO19

On the heels of $250M launch, Centes­sa barges ahead with an IPO to fu­el its 10-in-1 Medicxi pipeline

Francesco De Rubertis made no secret of IPO plans for Centessa, his 10-in-1 legacy play. Barely two months later, the S-1 is in.

The hot-off-the-press filing depicts the same grand vision that the longtime VC touted when he did the rounds in February: Take the asset-centric mindset that he’s been preaching at Medicxi over the years, and roll up a bunch of biotech upstarts, with unrelated risk profiles, into 1 pharma company that can carry on the development at scale.

Steffen Schuster, ITM CEO

Ra­dio­phar­ma re­mains hot as Ger­many's ITM rais­es $109M to ad­vance neu­roen­docrine can­cer pro­gram

The world of radiopharmaceuticals has been heating up over the last few years, and Thursday saw another company focused on the field pull in a new nine-figure raise.

Germany’s ITM, or Isotopen Technologien München, scored a $109 million round of loan financing to push forward its precision oncology pipeline and fund late-stage development for its lead program. As part of the agreement, the loan will convert to shares in the event of future financial or corporate transactions, ITM said.

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.