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.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Biohaven CEO Vlad Coric (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

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Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

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