Bacteria have evolved with humans over many thousands of years, forming a delicate balance in the body that researchers are just now starting to understand. Evelo Biosciences believes it can tap into the workings of the human microbiome to treat immune disorders and cancer and it now has raised $50 million in financing to test its approach in clinical trials.
Investors in Cambridge, MA-based Evelo’s Series B round include Flagship Pioneering, GV (formerly known as Google Ventures), Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), Alexandria Venture Investments, and Mayo Clinic. Evelo last year entered a partnership with Mayo to find cancer-associated bacteria from stool samples and tumor biopsies.
Flagship founded Evelo in 2015 to research the role of bacteria in cancer. A sister company also founded by Flagship, Epiva Biosciences, focused on the microbiome’s role in autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. Last year, Evelo merged with Epiva and kept the Evelo name.
A number of companies have emerged to develop drugs based on the growing understanding of the human microbiome. Seres Therapeutics (NASDAQ: MCRB), another Flagship company based in Cambridge, has brought a potential treatment for a serious gut infection into clinical trials. Second Genome, a South San Francisco, CA-based biotech, is in early-stage clinical trials testing a potential treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.
Evelo calls its therapeutic candidates monoclonal microbials—naturally occurring bacteria that have specific biological effects. Taken by mouth, these medicines interact with the bacteria that already populate the gut. The company says that its microbials can modulate immunological and biological effects throughout the body after first interacting with human cells in the gut.
When Evelo and Epiva merged last year, the combined company planned to bring its first microbial treatment into a clinical trial this year. Evelo now expects to start clinical testing in 2018. Evelo has not yet said which cancers and immune disorders are its lead targets. In a prepared statement, Noubar Afeyan, CEO of Flagship and chairman of Evelo’s board of directors, said that the latest funding enables the company to bring “several monoclonal microbials” into clinical trials.
Clostridium difficile bacteria image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.