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.
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.
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.
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