Evelo taps Mayo Clinic expertise for therapeutic bacteria programs

Evelo Biosciences has just forged closer ties with a heavyweight academic partner for its monoclonal microbials R&D, which envisages using bacteria to fight disease.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, biotech will work with the Mayo Clinical on therapies for inflammatory diseases, with the first candidate heading for clinical trials next year. As part of the deal, it is licensing rights to R&D conducted by two Mayo Clinic researchers—Joseph Murray, M.D., and Veena Taneja, Ph.D.—which has shown that oral administration of monoclonal microbials can suppress multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis in animal models.

The deal means that Evelo has shored up its intellectual property position in the emerging therapeutic category which was consolidated when it merged last year with another specialist in this area, Epiva Biosciences.

Monoclonal microbials are single-strain organisms isolated from the normal population of bacteria found in the gut microbiome. The hypothesis behind their use is that some diseases, including inflammatory conditions and cancer, are linked to an imbalance in the microbiome that can be corrected by dosing with the monoclonal microbial species.

The Mayo Clinic researchers’ work led to the identification of a strain of the bacterium Prevotella histicola, which seems to dampen down inflammatory processes by causing systemic changes in immune-regulating white blood cells and cytokines. According to Murray, the studies show that “human-derived microbes can be used to treat multiple immunological diseases well beyond the gut.”

According to Andrea Itano, Ph.D., Evelo’s senior vice president, immuno-inflammatory diseases, the new partnership is a key element in its plans to bring these treatments to patients. “This groundbreaking research validates Evelo's central thesis that orally delivered monoclonal microbials can profoundly impact the biologies that underpin devastating diseases across inflammation and oncology,” she said.

Evelo was set up two years ago with the aim of harnessing the microbiome to raise immune responses against cancer, adding the anti-inflammatory disease elements when it joined with Epiva. It has taken a worldwide license to Mayo’s patents on monoclonal microbials, including composition and method-of-use patents.

The Mayo Clinic is already an investor in the biotech—which raised $50 million in a series B in the summer—along with Flagship Pioneering, Google Ventures, Celgene and Alexandria Venture Investments.