Google Ventures-backed Evelo is joining forces with the Mayo Clinic to develop and eventually commercialize a family of gut bugs as medicine.
You read that right. Evelo’s research is based on the idea that microbes found in the gut can influence biological systems throughout the rest of the body. If true, that means naturally occurring human microbes could potentially be developed as a new class of medicine, the company’s CEO Simba Gill tells me.
“What we have is a new modality of medicine that allows for oral, safe, convenient, and highly efficacious drugs,” Gill said. “Single microbes will act as medicine to treat disease.”
Evelo calls these medicine-worthy bugs “monoclonal microbials,” and they’re not the only ones intrigued by their potential pharmacological uses. The Mayo Clinic has been looking into this field for several years, and recently published data in Cell and Arthritis and Rheumatology showing that popping pills packed with certain microbials could suppress multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Mayo proved that in mice, and now Evelo wants to take the strain into the clinic.
The deal with Mayo gets Evelo a worldwide exclusive license to the strains and surrounding IP. The company did not disclose the financial details of the deal.
“This collaboration provides us a new strain and family of microbes backed by strong intellectual property,” Gill said. “Mayo has done great foundational work, and now we can rapidly take this family of microbes into development by next year.”
Evelo isn’t divulging exactly which diseases it will take on first, but did say they’ll be looking into inflammatory and neuroinflammatory diseases.
Evelo’s existing pipeline
As a company, Evelo emerged in 2016 by combining two fledgling startups incubated by Flagship Pioneering. Backed with $100 million from investors including GV and Flagship, the company has been busy taking on this ambitious task of creating a new drug modality.
“What we’re doing is not straight forward,” Gill said. “Most people look at balancing the gut ecosystem because that’s the low hanging fruit. We went for the complex, more challenging approach. And that’s why we’re ahead of everyone else in this space.”
The new microbes from Mayo add to Evelo’s existing village of microbial families. The company is evaluating how specific microbes might influence how the body’s immune system responds to melanoma, renal and colorectal cancer, among other disease areas. Gill was mum on exactly how many strains and programs are ongoing, but said “several” would enter the clinic next year.
The future of medicine
Gill has a rather bold prediction that monoclonal microbials will revolutionize medicine.
“One of the reasons we’re so excited about this space is that — for many, many different diseases — monoclonal microbials could be used in combination with or even displace biologics.”
And Mayo Clinic seems to agree.
“Our studies show that human derived microbes can be used to treat multiple immunological diseases well beyond the gut,” said Joseph Murray, professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic.
Like the advent of monoclonal antibodies, Gill believes monoclonal microbials will lead to a new wave of smarter drugs — more efficacious, less toxic, and broadly applicable to several disease areas.
“Efficacy, toxicity, and convenience are the key attributes we’re looking at,” Gill said.
In those areas so far, Gill said monoclonal microbials’ performance is “striking” in comparison to biologics.
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