The latest installment, announced Tuesday, came as a $50 million Series B courtesy of its founding and principal investor, Flagship Pioneering. GV (formerly Google Ventures), Celgene, Mayo Clinic, and Alexandria Venture Investments also chipped in.
Evelo’s platform is based on what it calls monoclonal microbials. These are single strains of naturally occurring microbes that selectively target human gut cells. That supposedly initiates specific immunological pathways, which can modulate aspects of inflammation, neurodegeneration, and even cancer.
“Humans have evolved over millennia with the microbes in and on our bodies and these microbes play a vital role in developing and directing immune and biological responses,” Evelo CEO Simba Gill explained via email.
Using microbials as a drug is an interesting deviation from the standard small molecule or antibody-based approach. By isolating naturally-occurring strains, Gill said the company is looking to improve the speed, cost, and success of drug discovery and development. They can be taken orally and he’s also anticipating fewer off-target effects.
“One of the key advantages of monoclonal microbials is that we are not seeing systemic exposure of the microbe, and therefore do not expect to see side effects driven by off target systemic exposure,” Gill noted.
With the new funding in hand, Evelo hopes to advance multiple product candidates into human trials in 2018. In the crosshairs right now are cancers and so-called immuno-inflammatory diseases — a category that includes psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and food allergies.
“Based on the data we have generated, our monoclonal microbials have the potential to really move the needle for all of the disease areas listed,” he said.
Resources will also be committed to improving the foundational platform.
While it’s all new terrain, Flagship does have some related experience. Its VentureLabs incubator gave birth to what is arguably the most advanced microbiome-based drug company, Seres Therapeutics. It underwent a successful IPO and recently initiated the field’s first pivotal trial.
VentureLabs also seeded Epiva Biosciences, which joined forces with Evelo in 2016. It had become apparent that both companies were working on the same problem from different angles. Evelo was working to create cancer therapies and studied immune responses to tumors, while Epiva explored treatments for allergy, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
The two firms consolidated into one location in Cambridge, Massachusetts location, with Evelo’s Gill taking the helm.
“The rationale for combining the two companies was positive growth,” Gill told MedCity News at the time. “It was driven by the recognition that fundamentally the biological platform for both companies was a mirror image. We both independently uncovered the biology of the immune-microbiome.”
Let’s see how much of a punch the two-for-one pro-microbial company can now deliver.