Flagship launches another microbiome biotech with $35M and a focus on cancer

Flagship Ventures, the group behind microbiome success story Seres Therapeutics ($MCRB), is delving further into gut science with a new startup that aims to treat cancer by harnessing the power of the body's many bacterial tenants.

The firm is launching Evelo Therapeutics and backing it up with a $35 million investment, co-signing what the biotech calls oncobiotic treatments. The microbiome is an ecosystem of trillions of microbes that live in the body, and as scientists have come to better understand how that collection of organisms affects human health, changing its makeup has become a viable path for treating disease.

To date, most microbiome therapeutics have focused on infectious disease, but Evelo is emerging with an approach it says no company has ever taken before, investigating the role microbial agents play in cancer. Evelo is at work identifying and characterizing the many cancer-associated bacteria and bacterial immune activators at play in the body, eyeing a way to modulate tumor metabolism by targeting the microbiome. The company is also digging into how bacteria can activate the immune system, in search of a novel approach to immuno-oncology.

To execute on Evelo's ambitions, Flagship has recruited biopharma veteran Simba Gill to serve as CEO, and the company's board includes Flagship leaders Noubar Afeyan and David Berry alongside Seres CEO Roger Pomerantz.

Like Seres, a 2014 Fierce 15 company that pulled off a $140 million IPO earlier this year, Evelo is a graduate of Flagship's VentureLabs, an in-house startup machine devoted to finding first-in-class technology and assembling teams around it. Flagship closed a $537 million fund in March with plans to launch as many as 5 new companies a year. Flagship widened VentureLabs' focus earlier this year through separate partnerships with AstraZeneca ($AZN), Bayer and Nestlé in which each outfit brings its expertise to the factory floor with eyes on future deals.

Flagship has been among biotech's biggest beneficiaries of the IPO boom of the last few years, and the firm has maintained its penchant for backing novel, early-stage approaches to treating disease. Among Flagship's recent bets are the CRISPR biotech Editas Medicine, RNA pioneer Moderna Therapeutics and gene-switching outfit Syros Pharmaceuticals, all Fierce 15 honorees.

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Special Reports: FierceBiotech's 2015 Fierce 15 - Syros Pharmaceuticals | FierceBiotech's 2014 Fierce 15 - Editas Medicine - Seres Health | FierceBiotech's 2013 Fierce 15 - Moderna Therapeutics