When Doug Williams exited his role as R&D chief at Biogen a couple of years ago to run his own startup, he made the leap based on the promise that some of the venture players in biotech were buying into a whole new approach to company creation.
Shoestring budgets were being replaced with company launch plans that dwarfed the old VC model. And a traditional focus on one or two assets shifted to a commitment to pricey pipeline construction.
“For me,” Williams tells me, “part of what was the reason to coax me out of a pretty good day job at Biogen was not only the interest around technology maturing to where it looked like a platform technology, but having sufficient funds to keep your head down to make it work, without a need to immediately raise small tranches.”
Says Williams: “It is the new model.”
That “new model” in venture investing just delivered a $76.5 million round for Codiak BioSciences, bringing Williams’ total raise to $168.5 million in two years.
Not surprisingly, the syndicate behind Codiak includes Arch and Flagship, which have been seeding a growing slate of these enterprise class upstarts. In this case, Williams is now bankrolled into 2020 as he moves his first program to an IND in about a year as he starts to bring his head up in a high-stakes move to the clinic.
The platform that Williams and his staff of 48 are building — a structure designed to deliver multiple therapeutics for itself and the industry partners that he wants to bring on board now — focuses on the scientific understanding the company’s intellectual founders formed of the way the human body relies on exosomes as a kind of cellular freight service, carrying payloads of nucleic acids, proteins, small molecules and more through the various roadblocks your body uses to check the spread of threatening substances.
By hijacking the system, Codiak is looking to create a whole new way to drug the currently undruggable. And their first effort will be to jump on board these nanoparticles with an siRNA targeting KRAS that has shown promise in a variety of models for pancreatic cancer.
Not long after the company launch, Williams brought in Jan Lötvall from Göteborg University as chief scientist. It was Lötvall who did some of the pioneering lab work — along with research at MD Anderson — that demonstrated a decade ago how exosomes could transfer nucleic acids between cells.
“It got people to rethink how they might be useful to deliver complex payloads,” says Williams, who was one of the first in a group of Biogen execs like CEO George Scangos (Vir) and Steve Holtzman (Decibel) to jump ship and head back into the biotech arena to start their own companies.
Now he has the money to see if it can work in humans the way the science suggests it can. In addition to Flagship and Arch, the syndicate behind Codiak includes Fidelity Management and Research Company, the Alaska Permanent Fund and Alexandria Venture Investments, with new investors including Qatar Investment Authority, Boxer Capital of the Tavistock Group, Sirona Capital, EcoR1 Capital, and Casdin Capital.
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