Evelo Biosciences, a startup hoping to use the trillions of microbes in and on the human body to fight disease, is shutting down after running low on cash and seeing multiple drug trial failures.
The biotech, which was based in Cambridge, launched in 2015. It was one of the first companies in the microbiome field, which seeks to treat disease by leveraging bacteria naturally found in and around the body. Scientists theorized that interruptions to the carefully balanced ecosystem of bacteria in our bodies could contribute to many diseases; Evelo initially focused on cancers of the lung, skin, prostate, and colon.
The field has developed a couple of drugs. The first was approved almost exactly one year ago to treat a bowel disorder called Clostridium difficile infections, more commonly known as C. diff. A second microbiome therapy for C. diff was approved in April.
But drug makers have struggled to show that the microbiome could be used for anything other than digestive conditions, as evidenced by Evelo. The company, which was one of multiple microbiome companies started by Flagship Pioneering in the 2010s, deprioritized its oncology work in order to focus on skin disorder treatments.
In February, Evelo laid off 48 employees — roughly 45 percent of its staff — in order to conserve cash after an atopic dermatitis therapy failed in a Phase 2 trial. A group of investors, led by Flagship, funneled an additional $25.5 million into the company this July, but it wasn’t enough to keep the company going after a drug for psoriasis failed clinical testing.