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Exosome Therapy Start-Up Launches, Raises $80M

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(Public Domain Pictures, Pixabay)

17 November 2015. A new biotechnology company developing therapies that use tiny cellular containers to deliver their payloads is spun off from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and raising $80 million in early venture funding. Codiak Biosciences, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts is founded and licensing research by Raghu Kalluri, chair of M.D. Anderson’s cancer biology department.

Kalluri’s lab studies exosomes as communication vehicles between cells. Exosomes are vesicles, tiny — 40 to 150 nanometer — lipid-membrane containers in cells that gather up and secrete cytoplasm, the gel-like material outside the cell nucleus. While originally believed to carry out waste removal and other maintenance tasks, exosomes were shown in recent years to perform useful delivery functions carrying proteins and genetic material to other cells, and drawing increased attention from a range of biological disciplines.

As more of these delivery functions were revealed, researchers focused initially on opportunities provided by exosomes as biomarkers for diagnosing disease. In June 2015, for example, Kalluri and colleagues published research showing the potential of exosomes as early indicators of pancreatic cancer. Researchers are also investigating exosomes’ therapeutic potential, such as delivering antigens to trigger immune reactions from T-cells. A number of clinical trials are currently testing exosome therapies with humans, mainly for cancer.

Codiak plans to develop both therapies and diagnostics for cancer and other disorders based on exosomes. The company is part of VentureLabs, the life sciences incubator of venture capital firm Flagship Ventures in Cambridge that aims to draw on synergies of similar portfolio enterprises. In addition to licensing Kalluri’s research, Flagship is merging VL27, one of its current portfolio companies developing exosome technologies, and its intellectual property into Codiak.

Flagship Ventures and Arch Venture Partners are leading Codiak’s early financing, raising $80 million in what the parties are calling the company’s first two funding rounds. Participating in the financing are Fidelity Management and Research Company, the Alaska Permanent Fund, and Alexandria Venture Investments.

Codiak is co-founded by Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, as well as professor of biology at MIT and professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School. Douglas Williams, also a co-founder, is Codiak’s president and CEO. Williams served as executive vice president for research and development at the biotechnology company Biogen from January 2011 to July 2015.

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