Spinouts always operate, by their very nature, on the cutting edge of science, but every once in a while, one comes along that could prove truly transformational by inventing an entirely new field.

Evox Therapeutics, which exploits research from University of Oxford and Karolinska Institute, is one of these: the spinout is a pioneer in the exosome therapeutics space – a new class of therapeutics that Evox is initially aiming at rare metabolic conditions but that has applications far beyond these target areas. Evox, established in 2016, is building on work undertaken by Matthew Wood, professor of neuroscience and deputy head of the medical sciences division at Oxford, and Samir El Andaloussi, associate professor in biomolecular medicine at Karolinska. A third co-founder, Per Lundin (now Evox’s chief operating officer) was instrumental in bringing the two university founders and their intellectual property together. Evox is led by chief executive Antonin (Tony) de Fougerolles, who gained a PhD in immunology from Harvard University in 1993 and brings a wealth of experience to the job: his last three jobs were chief scientific officer at, respectively, Ablynx, Moderna Therapeutics and Tolerx, and before this he served as vice-president, research, at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. Wood began looking into exosomes in 2010, when he was “the first one to think about using exosomes as a means to deliver drugs and demonstrate it in vivo”, de Fougerolles told sister publication Global University Venturing. “Exosomes had been known about but had largely been thought of as small vesicles that cells secrete, mostly as a way to get rid of stuff – a garbage disposal system so to speak,” he explained. “But they are much more than that: cells are using exosomes to communicate with each other and to transfer payloads like proteins and mRNA safely and effectively.” Wood’s stroke of genius, de Fougerolles continued, was to load exosomes with siRNA molecules made in the lab. He engineered the exosomes to display ligands on the surface that would help them cross the blood-brain barrier. Doing this, he successfully demonstrated in mice that “he could systemically administer a siRNA-loaded engineered exosome and get delivery and target silencing in the brain”, de Fougerolles continued. “That was something nobody else had been able to do and that has really opened up the whole exosome therapeutic field.” The initial focus for Evox’s internal pipeline was due to a range of factors. “We are in a fortunate position with our technology in that we can pretty much deliver any payload to a multitude of different tissues,” de Fougerolles declared. “What particularly attracted us to rare metabolic disorders were three things. Firstly, there is a high unmet need. Secondly,…

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Thierry Heles

Thierry Heles is the editor of Global University Venturing, host of the Beyond the Breakthrough interview podcast and responsible for the monthly GUV Gazette (sign up here for free).