Flagship launches Senda Biosciences with $88M in backing, looking to pioneer the field of 'Intersystems Biology'
Flagship Pioneering has a fresh company out this week, one that aims to lay the groundwork for a whole new discipline.
Senda Biosciences launched Wednesday with $88 million in Flagship cash. The goal? Gain insights into the molecular connections between people and coevolved nonhuman species like plants and bacteria, paving the way for “Intersystems Biology.”
Guillaume Pfefer has been tapped to run the show, a 25-year biotech veteran who comes from GSK after leading the development of the company’s shingles vaccine.
“For Senda, we are zooming into what’s going on at human levels, and we recognize that these interactions are the product of evolution since the dawn of time,” Pfefer told Endpoints News. “We know which species are involved in our bodies and where.”
A centerpiece of Senda’s proprietary tech involves machine learning to create what the company hopes is an entirely new class of drugs. By focusing in part on the bacteria that reside in humans, Senda is looking at potentially developing large molecule medicines like peptides and nucleic acids using oral administration, which the company says is a first.
Intersystems Biology has been in the works at Flagship for some time. The firm says the discipline is based on a decade of research in other areas, including microbiome science and computational biology, and the cellular interactions Senda is analyzing can be found in several different places within the body.
“Through the explorations conducted by Flagship Labs over the last several years we have discovered that these interconnections have profound implications on human health,” Flagship founder Noubar Afefan told Endpoints News in an email.
One prime example is the neurotransmitter serotonin, most of which is not found in the central nervous system but the gut. As much as 90% of serotonin is produced in response to bacteria breaking down compounds within the digestive tract, Senda says, and if this regulation falls out of whack, it can lead to health problems with both low and high blood sugar.
“With this approach, you realize that we have a pharmacy within us,” Pfefer said. “The key point is we have evolved with the bacteria, and now with Senda are able to look with high resolution into how the species within us communicate and participate in disease and health.”
Senda currently has six ongoing preclinical programs under its belt across multiple areas, with INDs expected for each by the end of 2022. In neurology, Senda has candidates in multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. For oncology, they’re looking at immuno-oncology and colorectal cancer. And in chronic and metabolic disease, the first targets are chronic kidney disease and obesity.
Specifically, Pfefer mentioned that Senda is looking at a bacteria that interferes with L-dopa in the treatment of Parkinson’s and attempting to disrupt that process, thus making therapies more effective.
As Senda moves its six preclinical programs forward, Pfefer’s goal is to continue to deploy its discovery engine into further indications, setting up the company for more programs once the proof of mechanism has been established at the end of 2022.
“We are touching on something very fundamental here and very profound,” Pfefer said.
The company was co-founded by several members of Flagship’s team, including partners David Berry and Ignacio Martinez. Senda’s board will be chaired by Flagship’s executive partner John Mendlein.