A step behind its major exosome challenger, Evox scores $95M round for final leg of race to the clinic
After years of academic and early-stage biotech development, exosomes finally entered the clinic last year, when Codiak launched their Phase I/II trial in advanced solid tumors. Now Evox, their chief rival in the space, is plotting their own path to humans, even if they still have a ways to go.
Evox announced Thursday a $95 million Series C to push their first rare-disease programs into the clinic in 2022. The round, led by Redmile Group, will also allow the company to expand into new diseases and modalities, including delivering gene therapy and gene editing, CEO Tony de Fougerolles said in an interview.
Exosomes, tiny bubbles of fat that function as a postal service between cells in the body, have become a growing focus for drug development in recent years. Based on studies showing that these nanopackages can carry genetic material and even proteins within and across tissues, companies have tried to turn them into delivery vehicles for a host of technologies, from old-fashioned small molecules to mRNA and AAV gene therapy.
Evox, which has now raised over $150 million in five years, and Codiak, which went public last year for $83 million, are the two largest players and as their engineering efforts progressed, they’ve attracted attention from Big Pharma and big biotech.
Fougerolles, who helped develop the first vehicles for RNA therapies as one of the first employees at both Alnylam and Moderna, said exosomes have been easier to engineer than lipid nanoparticles — academics and the body have done a lot of the work for them — but the company has still managed to improve the amount of payload they can deliver by several orders of magnitude.
“We’ve engineered everything from a small molecule to an AAV to an mRNA, siRNA, etc. So we kind of have this whole toolbox built out,” he said. “Now we’re in the phase of really translating them into products.”
Takeda and Eli Lilly have rewarded Evox accordingly, each dangling over $1 billion for collaborations on rare disease and central nervous system disorders, respectively. Codiak has its own deals: with Sarepta for a re-dosing gene therapy and with Jazz Pharmaceuticals for cancer.
Fougerolles said both companies have taken a broadly similar approach to engineer exosomes but far different approaches to applying the exosomes they engineer. Codiak chose immuno-oncology, building out at least six different cancer programs. Evox looked at that option and rejected it as too risky.
Too much is unknown about immunology, and scientists are still struggling to develop animal models that translate well into humans, Fougerolles said. So why pair an untested technology in exosomes with high-risk applications?
“Someone like Codiak has the same exosome platform risk, but they’ve also now put on additional risk in terms of, is that the right target in terms of immuno-oncology?” he said.
Evox’s first programs, by contrast, are in rare disorders where patients are missing an enzyme in the urea cycle. If their exosome can successfully deliver an enzyme to that patient’s cells, it knows the patient will improve and quickly. And if the patients don’t, Evox will know what was at fault.