The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has joined two venture capital firms and co-founder Eric Lander, Ph.D, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, to launch Codiak BioSciences—which said today it has secured commitments for more than $80 million in series A and B financing.
Codiak said it aims to become the global leader in developing exosomes as the basis of new therapeutics and diagnostics for a variety of diseases, including cancer. The company added that it has closed on the first unspecified portion of the $80 million and has signed license and sponsored research agreements with MD Anderson.
Codiak is founded partially on technology developed in the laboratories of Raghu Kalluri, Ph.D., professor and chairman of MD Anderson’s Department of Cancer Biology. Dr. Kalluri and his colleagues have shown that exosomes derived from normal cells can act as a potent and safe delivery system for multiple therapeutic payloads, by mediating dramatic effects in animal models of disease.
Dr. Kalluri's work with exosomes involved 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, according to Codiak.
Dr. Kalluri is among the founders of Codiak and will have an interest in the company. He joined MD Anderson in 2012 through a recruitment grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which has also awarded him research funding.
Codiak said another co-founder, Dr. Lander, will serve on its board of directors, and apply his expertise in molecular and computational analysis of the genome to help the company explore diagnostic and therapeutic applications of exosomes. In addition to his duties at the Broad Institute, Dr. Lander is also professor of biology at MIT and professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School.
The company said Douglas E. Williams, Ph.D., will be its founding president and CEO. He previously served as Biogen's evp, research and development from January 2011 to July of this year. Before joining Biogen, he was CEO and a board member of ZymoGenetics, which was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2010.
Codiak’s chairman will be Steven Gillis, Ph.D., managing director at ARCH Venture Partners and co-founder of Immunex—where more than a quarter-century ago he recruited Dr. Williams, who served there in a series of scientific and senior leadership positions. Also serving on Codiak’s board will be Flagship Ventures founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D.
ARCH Venture Partners and Flagship Ventures are co-lead founding investors in Codiak, with Fidelity Management and Research Company, the Alaska Permanent Fund and Alexandria Venture Investments also joining the initial $80+ million Series A and Series B funding syndicate.
Flagship’s VentureLabs® innovation unit has worked since last year to apply exosomes as a therapeutic platform. VentureLabs has produced an intellectual property portfolio consisting of internally developed patents held by one of its startups, VentureLabs Newco VL27—which has merged into Codiak after acquiring exosome-related IP work of an advisor to the company, Jan Lotvall, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Krefting Research Centre and a professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.