Codiak BioSciences, Inc. announced today the closing of the first portion of a planned $80-plus 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, M.D., Ph.D., chair 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 Jan. 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 BristolMyers 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 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 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 A. 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-plus 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 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.