Company Secures $80+ Million in Committed Funding to Develop Exosome-Based Therapeutic and Diagnostic Products
Douglas E. Williams, Ph.D., Named President and Chief Executive Officer
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. and HOUSTON, Nov. 17, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Codiak BioSciences Inc. announced today the closing of the first portion of a planned $80+ million Series A and B financing. The company also executed license and sponsored research agreements with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Leveraging recent advances in the biology of extracellular vesicles and their role in intercellular communication, Codiak aims to become the world's leading company in developing exosomes as a new therapeutic and diagnostic modality for the treatment of a wide array of diseases, including cancer.
The company is founded in part on technology developed in the laboratories of Raghu Kalluri, Ph.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Cancer Biology, MD Anderson. Kalluri and his colleagues have demonstrated that exosomes derived from normal cells can act as a potent and safe delivery system for multiple therapeutic payloads. Exosomes – small vesicles that leave cells and travel throughout the body – can mediate dramatic effects in animal models of disease. Kalluri's work with exosomes involves discoveries related to identification of double stranded genomic DNA, exosome microRNAs and their biogenesis, exosome proteins, identification of cancer-specific exosomes and exosome-mediated therapies.
Codiak is co-founded by Eric Lander, Ph.D., president and founding director of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Lander is also professor of biology at MIT and professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School. His experience in molecular and computational analysis of the genome will be of great value to Codiak as it explores the depth and reach of the diagnostic and therapeutic applications of exosomes. Lander will serve on Codiak's board of directors.
The company announced that Douglas E. Williams, Ph.D., has joined Codiak BioSciences as its founding president and chief executive officer. He previously served as Biogen's executive vice president, research and development from January 2011 to July 2015. He joined Biogen from ZymoGenetics, where he was CEO and a member of the board of directors. During Williams' tenure, ZymoGenetics was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $985 million. Previously, he held leadership positions within the biotechnology industry, serving as chief scientific officer and executive vice president of research and development at Seattle Genetics Inc., and senior vice president and Washington site leader at Amgen Inc. Williams also served in a series of scientific and senior leadership positions for more than a decade at Immunex Corp.
"I am excited to be joining Codiak," said Williams. "I look forward to building a world-class team to harness the power of exosomes for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. We seek to grow Codiak into the leader in this emerging field as we strive to make new, breakthrough medicines that provide significant and lasting patient benefit."
Steven Gillis, Ph.D., managing director at ARCH Venture Partners and co-founder of Immunex, recruited Williams to Immunex over 25 years ago. Gillis will serve as chairman of Codiak BioSciences. "Codiak is harnessing recent advances in the field of extracellular vesicles and will assemble a world-class team to develop exosomes as a new modality for therapeutics and diagnostics," said Gillis. "We look forward to helping Codiak grow to become a dominant force in the field of exosome biology and to working with the founders, Doug Williams and MD Anderson to ensure that Codiak's developments provide meaningful advancements in the fight against cancer and other diseases."
Through its VentureLabs® innovation unit, Flagship Ventures has pursued applications of exosomes as a novel therapeutic platform since 2014. The resulting intellectual property portfolio comprises internally developed patents held by VentureLabs Newco VL27. Jan Lotvall, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the Department of Internal Medicine, and chairman of the Krefting Research Centre at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, is an advisor to the company. In 2007, Lotvall published one of the seminal papers describing the cell-to-cell transfer of nucleic acids via exosomes. The foundational intellectual property related to this work was acquired by VL27. In association with the formation and financing of Codiak, VL27 has merged into Codiak.
"At Flagship, we have been involved in exploring the utility of exosomes in a variety of therapeutic and diagnostic settings for some time," said Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Flagship Ventures. "Based on our early involvement in this rapidly-emerging field, we were impressed by the findings reported from Dr. Kalluri's laboratory at MD Anderson. We are excited by the premise and the promise of Codiak BioSciences and are delighted to partner with ARCH Venture Partners as co-lead founding investors in the company." Afeyan will serve on Codiak's board of directors.
"Exosomes are a promising new field of study and a potential source of new diagnostic and treatment approaches to cancer," said Ronald DePinho, M.D., president of MD Anderson. "Continued innovation in research through collaborative partnerships may serve us well in the pursuit of new therapies that can bring true benefits to patients."
Codiak will be located in the Boston/Cambridge metropolitan area. Fidelity Management and Research Company, the Alaska Permanent Fund and Alexandria Venture Investments are additional members of the initial $80+ million Series A and Series B funding syndicate. Kalluri has been the recipient of recruitment and research funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Kalluri joined MD Anderson in 2012 with assistance from a CPRIT recruitment grant.
Kalluri is a founder of Codiak and will have an interest in the company. As required, Kalluri's relationship is addressed under MD Anderson's conflict of interest policy which is available at http://www.mdanderson.org/about-us/conflict-of-interest/index.html.
Exosomes are tiny membrane sacs, or vesicles, that are released by both healthy and cancerous cells. Substances from cell cytoplasm, including genomic DNA, various RNA species, proteins and lipids are encapsulated into exosomes and are shed into the extracellular environment. All fluids in the human body have been shown to contain exosomes, which can transfer the cytoplasmic ingredients to other cells either locally or at distant sites. The cytoplasmic payload within exosomes, once transferred to the recipient cells, can alter the biology of the recipient cells. Exosomes may be useful for diagnostic purposes since they contain genomic DNA for mutational analysis using a simple blood test. In addition, cancer-derived exosomes have specific markers that enable them to be isolated, purified and analyzed. Exosomes have been described as the package delivery system of the body because of their ability to be released from one cell and deliver their contents to distant cells. This property of exosomes may play an essential role in the formation of certain microenvironments in health and disease.
Codiak BioSciences is a venture-backed start-up dedicated to harnessing the power of exosomes as both therapeutics and diagnostics in cancer and other diseases. Codiak is building a world-class team and has generated, acquired and licensed foundational intellectual property to enable the development of products that capitalize on the unique biology of exosomes. For more about Codiak, visit www.codiakbio.com.
ARCH Venture Partners, one of the largest early stage technology venture firms in the U.S., invests in the development of seed and early stage advanced technology companies. ARCH enjoys special recognition as a leader in the commercialization of technologies developed at academic institutions, corporate research groups and national laboratories. ARCH invests primarily in companies it co-founds with leading scientists and entrepreneurs, concentrating on bringing to market innovations in information technology, life sciences, and physical sciences. ARCH has approximately $1.9 billion under management through eight venture funds and has funded more than 150 new ventures over its 25-plus year history. For more information please visit www.archventure.com.
About Flagship Ventures
Realizing entrepreneurial innovation is the mission of Flagship Ventures. Founded in 2000, the firm has launched more than 35 first-in-class companies while investing in another 55. Flagship manages over $1.4 billion in capital and is active in three principal sectors: therapeutics, health technologies, and sustainability. Flagship's current portfolio includes Acceleron (NASDAQ: XLRN), Agios (NASDAQ: AGIO), Seres Therapeutics (NASDAQ: MCRB), T2 Biosystems (NASDAQ: TTOO), as well as several private companies: Editas Medicine, Moderna Therapeutics and Syros Pharmaceuticals. For more information, please visit www.flagshipventures.com.
About MD Anderson Cancer Center
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston ranks as one of the world's most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. The institution's sole mission is to end cancer for patients and their families around the world. MD Anderson is one of only 45 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). MD Anderson is ranked No.1 for cancer care in U.S. News & World Report's "Best Hospital's" survey. It has ranked as one of the nation's top two hospitals since the survey began in 1990, and has ranked first for 11 of the past 14 years. MD Anderson receives a cancer center support grant from the NCI of the National Institutes of Health (P30 CA016672).