Evelo raises $50M to take monoclonal microbials into clinic

Evelo Biosciences has raised $50 million to take its monoclonal microbials into the clinic. The series B round moves the total raised by the preclinical-stage Flagship VentureLabs graduate up toward the $100 million mark, equipping it to push cancer and immuno-inflammatory drugs into phase 1.

Flagship, Evelo’s founding and principal investor, returned for the series B and was joined by some fellow big-name backers. GV, formerly known as Google Ventures, and Celgene chipped in cash, as did Alexandria Venture Investments and Evelo-collaborator Mayo Clinic. The round comes about 18 months after Flagship launched Evelo with a $35 million investment. And 12 months after it merged the startup with another of its portfolio plays, Epiva Biosciences.

Evelo had hoped to get into the clinic this year. But while that timeline has slipped since it merged with Epiva, the scope of its clinical-phase ambitions has broadened. Drugs targeting cancer and immuno-inflammatory conditions are penciled in to start human testing.

The pipeline is underpinned by a platform designed to discover oral single microbial strains that interact with human cells in the gut. The goal is to act on immunomodulatory pathways and, in doing so, treat a wide range of diseases. A cancer candidate could orchestra at attack on tumors by activating dendritic cell subtypes and pro-inflammatory macrophages. On the flip side, an autoimmune candidate could trigger the inhibition of inflammatory cytokines.   

Evelo’s focus on both up and down regulating the immune system stems from its merger with Epiva. Evelo began life trying to use the microbiome to activate the immune system and treat cancer. Epiva focused its energy on down regulating the immune system to treat allergy, autoimmunity and inflammatory diseases.

The result of this combination and the fundraising rounds is a well-financed biotech with a broadly-applicable platform in the mold of one of Flagship’s other big bets, Moderna Therapeutics.

Like Moderna, Evelo is now positioned to start showing whether Flagship and its fellow investors were wise to make a high-stakes bet on a company that is yet to test its therapeutic concept in humans.