Flagship brings 'intersystems biology' under one roof with Senda Biosciences

Guillaume Pfefer
Guillaume Pfefer, Ph.D.
(Flagship Pioneering)

"Intersystems biology" could be on par with genetics as one of the most fundamental fields to understanding the human body, its systems and whether we are healthy or sick. At least, that's what Guillaume Pfefer, Ph.D., CEO of Senda Biosciences, thinks.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Senda is the final iteration of several Flagship Pioneering efforts in the space. Backed with $88 million to date, it combines four Flagship companies, including Kintai Therapeutics, that all believe in the power of intersystems biology, which “focuses on how molecular connections between botanical, bacterial, and human cells—coevolved over millennia—define health and disease,” the company said in a statement.

“The connection between non-human species and us that we evolved with over millennia is as profound and fundamental as the genetic code. This inter-system molecular connection redefined life,” said Pfefer, who in July became a CEO-partner at Flagship, a dual role that has him working on the biotech builder's team as well as helming one of its companies.

These connections are like a "living pharmacy" in our bodies, he said.

“It's really powerful—it’s touching pretty much every branch of medicine,” he said. “We really [came] to the realization that we needed to get into the way the species connect [at a] molecular level with us, not only the microbiotic bacterias, by the way, but also the plants we eat, to … create a new category of medicine.”

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This focus on intersystems biology stems from the belief that the connections between these components are key to understanding the body and disease.

“There is no form of life that is not the result of a connection between species and the ecosystem, and we are not an exception to that. There is more bacteria and species in us than stars in the solar galaxies,” he said. “And it's fundamental to life, and therefore health and disease.”

Once Senda can figure out how bacteria, flora and human cells interact with each other, it will then be able to direct the system to treat disease. That's where Senda's name comes from—it means communication in Spanish, as in, sending signals. Among the Basque population native to southwest France and northwest Spain, it also means “healing.”

Although intersystems biology could be used to treat all kinds of diseases, Senda has zeroed in on neurology, oncology and metabolic disease. Its programs include treatments for Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, colorectal cancer, chronic kidney disease and obesity. It's also working on an immuno-oncology program. It hopes to push its small-molecule drugs into the clinic in 2022.

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As for what’s next, the company has seen “very active” interest from potential partners and additional talent, Pfefer said.

“I'm very encouraged with what we're doing right now on the partnership side. And now that we are unveiling Senda with a very clear and exciting story and so much potentiality for value creation ahead of us, we will be in position to engage with investor communities and start building relationships,” he said.

And although the company is trying to move into the clinic quickly, it also wants to explore all the possibilities before drilling down on just a few.

“This field is so vast that we certainly don't want to niche ourselves into the first program that we will have engaged with; we have the ambition to create a multiproduct platform company,” Pfefer said. “We don't want to ignore that we have an absolutely unbelievable engine behind us, and I want to continue to see some great opportunity to change positively human life and treat disease with targets that may be identified in the coming months.”