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University of Oxford exosome spin-out excites investors

Fresh from their successful £10m seed fund raise from Oxford Science Innovation, we talk to the CEO of Evox Therapeutics, Prof. Matthew Wood about their exciting exosome technology and future plans now that the investment has been secured.

Matthew Wood, Chief Executive Officer, Evox Therapeutics

In addition to holding the role of CEO at Evox Therapeutics, Matthew is currently University Lecturer, and Fellow and Tutor in Medicine and Physiology at Somerville College. He graduated in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 1987, working in clinical Neuroscience before gaining a doctorate in Physiological Sciences from the University of Oxford in 1993

B&M: Matthew, perhaps we can start with your company elevator pitch?

MW: We founded this company on a technology enabling the engineering of small nanoparticles called exosomes. Exosomes are natural nanoparticles produced by all cells. They are not synthetic, and have a whole range of natural, innate properties. For example, they can transport large molecules such as proteins or nucleic acids, between cells in the human body. The focus of the company is to exploit this natural technology which exists in all cells, but to engineer our own customised versions and to delivery particular therapeutics to combat unmet medical needs. We have a specific focus on the delivery of therapies into inaccessible tissues, nervous and brain tissues in particular, and also potentially tumours.

B&M: What sets you apart from other companies doing similar work?

MW: There are only a few companies that work with exosomes like we do, but we are uniquely placed as a result of our expertise and IP platform to effectively customise these nanoparticles to deliver particular therapeutics to particular groups of cells or tissues, and to do this in a modular or combinatorial way. We can deliver multiple therapeutics with a single nanoparticle. Our engineering technology is unique.

B&M: What kind of potential in the long term does your application have?

MW: Most of the recent top selling drugs have been biologics, meaning they are proteins, antibodies, nucleic acids or gene therapy type drugs. Very few of them are small molecule drugs. If you then look at these biologics, you realise that almost none are being developed for the nervous system, because it is so difficult to deliver these drugs into the brain tissue effectively. This is where our engineering platform plays a crucial potential role. Our exosomes would allow these biologic drugs to be delivered into tissues that are difficult to reach, such as those in the central nervous system. Neuro-degenerative diseases, neuro-inflammatory diseases, enzyme deficiencies within the brain – the scope for application could be huge as there is such an unmet need here. We can really extend the application of protein biologics by using our engineered nanoparticles, and deliver them exactly to where they need to be.

L to R: Dr Per Lundin, Professor Matthew Wood and Dr Samir El Andaloussi

B&M: Evox is a recent spinout from Oxford University. What have you found has been the most challenging aspect of that transition?

MW: The challenges could be placed into two categories. The scientific and the commercial. The science has been in the making for the past 10 years, and still there is so much we do not know. It is a relatively new field with a lot more fundamental science that needs to be studied. Finally, we are at the point where we can develop the technology and start thinking about clinical application. The commercial challenges have been to do with getting the company launched, raising the investment funds needed, getting the IP licensed, and getting appropriate agreements with the university and our investors. These things take time and it’s been a busy nine months doing all that.

B&M: You successfully raised £10 million in seed funding this month, from Oxford Sciences Innovation. What do you they found so compelling about yare our story?

MW: Firstly, this is a platform technology, so the potential applications are huge. There is a strong likelihood we will have some lead programmes for development in-house, and at the same time partner up with other companies on other applications. Thus, the commercial potential is very high. Secondly, they liked the science. It is very unique and powerful. Ten years ago we did not even know these nanoparticles existed playing such important roles in the human body. We have found a way to exploit the underlying biology, and engineer these particles to get them to do something beneficial in a given therapeutic condition. This was fascinating to investors.

B&M: What will the seed funding enable the company to achieve in the short to medium term?

MW: OSI really understood our vision of developing this platform technology, as opposed to developing a very specific product to treat a certain condition. We will be using this money to develop the technology – a lot of new IP, new platforms, and new ideas in the next few years. In addition, we will identify several therapeutic programmes for internal development, where we will invest a significant amount of money getting the proof of concept data we need. We will then select one of them to be our lead clinical programme in a few years. The funding from OSI lets us do two things – develop the platform technology, as well as a lead programme working towards a specific clinical application.

“The funding from OSI lets us do two things – develop the platform technology, as well as a lead programme working towards a specific clinical application.”

B&M: Are there any quantifiable milestones we can look forward to hear about in terms of timelines?

MW: We are probably going to focus on neurological disease. Our goal is to have our first proof of concept data and all relevant disease models in one to two years. By the end of two years, we will have a lead clinical product identified, and we can start clinical evaluation probably in the third year. Other milestones would include partnering with other companies on programmes outside our lead internal programmes. We already have a few very productive academic collaborations with industry partners. Now we are developing a partnering strategy because there is scope to have two or three very powerful partnerships within the first year and a few more in the second year. Through these partnerships, we should be able to really maximise the exploitation of the technology.

“Now we are developing a partnering strategy because there is scope to have two or three very powerful partnerships within the first year and a few more in the second year.”

B&M: How do you aim to work with pharma and other biotechs to develop value in Evox as a company?

MW: First of all, we want to be the forerunners in developing the core technology, and to have ownership and a well-defined IP. That will be done internally. After defining a few therapeutic programmes we can fund ourselves, all other aspects are up for potential partnerships. At the more mundane end, we will require manufacturing partners for our eventual therapeutic product. We are probably not going to do everything in-house. More excitingly, we would be very much interested in partnering up with biotechs that have particular expertise that match up with us. For example, people developing RNA therapies or nucleic acid therapies, or oligopeptide therapies, would need a delivery mechanism and we can provide targeted delivery of these molecules. We have already identified a few biotechs like this. With big pharma, we might want to define some particular disease areas to work on together. I have already mentioned neurological disease as our in-house focus. We may want a partner to work on oncology or connective tissue disease, where we can leverage resources, as well as the really deep expertise these big pharma companies have in disease areas. Together we would then develop products all the way from clinical evaluation into late stage clinical trials.

B&M: What would success look like to you and Evox in the long term?

MW: From the perspective of our investors, they are very ambitious about the commercial potential Evox has, and the potential market value for our technology and our products. From my personal point of view, coming from a scientific and medical background, success for me would be the development of products which really have the potential to treat diseases of the brain or nervous system that until now we have had no real prospect of treating, such as multiple sclerosis. The science behind Evox is so ground-breaking and exciting, and the technology is so broadly applicable. I am looking forward to discovering just how much we can achieve in the next five or ten years. There have been so many surprises in the last decade studying these nanoparticles, I am sure the next decade will be just the same. I cannot predict what the science has in store for us. We want to make sure we are leading the technology development, so that whatever comes up, we will be the best people in the best place to exploit and apply the technology.

“The science behind Evox is so ground-breaking and exciting, and the technology is so broadly applicable. I am looking forward to discovering just how much we can achieve in the next five or ten years.”

Evox Therapeutics has built a comprehensive intellectual property portfolio encompassing key aspects of EV-based nucleic acid and protein delivery technology. Coupled with targeting technology and proprietary manufacturing and purification methods, the company is set to develop transformational therapeutics across a wide range of disease areas, using an equally wide array of therapeutic modalities.


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