Mining the connections between humans and non-human species to create new medicines
CEO: Guillaume Pfefer, Ph.D.
Chairman, co-founder: Ignacio Martinez
Based: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Clinical focus: Developing new mRNA therapies, genetic medicines and “protein-in-a-pill" treatments that can be delivered orally thanks to “intersystems biology.”
The scoop: Flagship Pioneering launched Senda in October 2020, uniting several projects in the new field of “intersystems biology” under one roof. Senda aims to understand the connections that have evolved over millennia between humans and other species—including plants, bacteria, viruses and fungi—to develop a brand new kind of medicine.
Senda started out with a multipronged approach, developing small molecule programs in areas ranging from central nervous system disorders to cancer, as well as new drug delivery methods based on the interactions between humans and other species. Since then, it has gone through a “distillation process,” discontinuing a program in kidney disease, seeking partners for its small molecules, and throwing the bulk of its efforts behind its X-VIA platform for drug delivery.
What makes Senda fierce: Starting Senda was like “landing on a new planet and starting an exploration process,” said Senda CEO Guillaume Pfefer, Ph.D., borrowing the words of Flagship CEO Noubar Afeyan.“We’re tapping into something that doesn’t exist and covering data that nobody has seen before,” he added.
But that’s not all that makes Senda fierce—with its X-VIA platform, it is mapping for the first time how humans and other species exchange molecular information. With that knowledge, the company is working on “transfer modalities” that could transform medicines such as mRNA vaccines and treatments; gene editing and gene therapy; and protein or peptide therapeutics, such as antibodies or hormones.
Senda emerged with $88 million in funding in October 2020 and then extended its series B by $55 million in June of this year. The funds will bankroll the development of Senda’s platform and pipeline, and send three programs into the clinic in 2022, the company said.
The first program slated to enter the clinic was a treatment for metabolic disease developed in partnership with Nestlé Health Science. That’s still on track for the second half of next year, Pfefer said. Senda expected its bacteria-targeting chronic kidney disease program to follow close behind, but the company has since pulled the plug on it.
“Having advanced the program to the point we were looking at a partnership, we decided we needed to spend the money we raised into advancing genetic medicines, next-generation mRNA and protein therapies that will unlock tremendous value for us,” Pfefer said.
The company believes its X-VIA platform is a launchpad that will ultimately deliver many more medicines than individual small-molecule assets and is considering finding partners for the latter. Targets span multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.
Once Senda proves it can deliver its first mRNA treatment or genetic medicine orally, the floodgates will open for follow-on programs, Pfefer predicts.
A major focus for the X-VIA platform is oral delivery for medicines that must be injected today. Monoclonal antibodies and diabetes treatments like insulin and GLP-1 meds cannot be given orally because the stomach and intestines would break them down before they did their job. The company is “aggressively trying to advance” the oral delivery of peptides in large animal models.
Another possibility is the delivery of gene-editing treatments or gene therapies to tissues that are out of reach with today’s delivery methods as well as the possibility for repeat dosing.
As for mRNA medicines, the company is “looking at the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines using X-VIA,” and is moving into larger animal, disease-relevant models, Pfefer said.
Since its launch, Senda has grown to 60 staffers and built out its leadership team. As it expands its platform in multiple directions, the company will need to make some big decisions on which therapeutic areas it wants to tackle first.
“When you start unpacking a very large platform like X-VIA, you don’t know exactly how big is the planet you have landed on... We came to the conclusion that we need to maintain clarity,” Pfefer said. “What we are trying to do as a platform company is put Senda in a place where we are going to have a proliferation of programs down the road based on the platform.”
Investors: Flagship Pioneering, Longevity Vision Fund, Terra Magnum Capital Partners, Mayo Clinic, Partners Investment, Mint Venture Partners, Alexandria Venture Investments, and the State of Michigan Retirement System.