Flagship Pioneering united its “intersystems biology” efforts under one roof last fall, and, now, that company is gearing up for human trials. With a $55 million boost, Senda Biosciences will push three programs into the clinic in 2022, including treatments for chronic kidney disease and metabolic diseases as well as an asset aimed at making checkpoint inhibitors work for more people.
The company’s pipeline is based on “intersystems biology,” meaning the connections between humans and other species, like plants and bacteria, both inside and outside our bodies, said Senda CEO Guillaume Pfefer, Ph.D. Because humans and nonhuman species evolved together over millennia, Senda figures understanding the connections between them on a molecular level could lead to a brand-new kind of medicine.
The $55 million extension brings Senda’s series B round to $98 million. It comes from Alexandria Venture Investments and State of Michigan Retirement System and its founder, Flagship, as well as new backers Longevity Vision Fund, Terra Magnum Capital Partners, Mayo Clinic, Partners Investment and Mint Venture Partners.
The first program to go into human trials will be a treatment for metabolic disease Senda is developing alongside Nestlé Health Science, Pfeffer said. The duo teamed up in January this year to develop up to three small molecules “that intervene in bacterial pathways pertaining to metabolic disease” such as obesity, glycemia and potentially liver disease, too, Pfeffer said.
Next up will be its chronic kidney disease program, which targets bacteria in the gut that make a compound called trimethylamine, or TMA, which is metabolized in the liver to become trimethylamine-N-oxide, or TMAO. The latter “is seen increasingly as a bad actor with cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease,” Pfeffer said. And its third program aims to block ligands made by bacteria that interfere with the activity of checkpoint inhibitors in a bid to make those drugs work for more people.
Besides these three programs, Senda is also developing treatments for multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and colorectal cancer.
But Senda isn’t stopping at treatments that target pathways between humans and bacteria. It’s also taking advantage of the connections between humans and other species to come up with new bacteria-based ways to tune the immune system up and down and plant-based ways to deliver medicines.
“To date, we have produced proof-of-platform data showing the ability of our plant-derived transfer systems to deliver large biomolecules such as mRNA and peptides, with never-before-seen patterns of biodistribution,” said Scott Plevy, M.D., chief scientific officer of Senda, in a statement.
This plant-based system could open up oral delivery of treatments that must be injected today, such as insulin or mRNA-based vaccines and treatments, Pfeffer said.
As it works toward the clinic, Senda will continue to build out its platform as well as its team.
“We are creating a culture that welcomes diversity not just from what we look like, but deeper, with the inclusion of any point of view, which I think is a … critical part of being a pioneering company that is moving as a team into uncharted territory,” Pfeffer said.