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A New Weapon in the Battle Against Cancer

Codiak BioSciences, launched last week and headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., is investing in a promising new tool for cancer detection and treatment: exosomes.

“They are the body’s FedEx system,” explained CEO Douglas Williams at this year’s Xconomy Healthcare Summit. Exosomes, enveloped virus-sized delivery mechanisms that exist between the body’s cells, contain complex payloads—including genomic DNA, and a whole host of RNA—which they deliver to the cytoplasm of recipient cells.

“What’s truly fascinating is that the contents of exosomes can reprogram recipient cells,” explained Williams, who began Codiak earlier this year after leaving his post as a top research and development executive at Biogen. To date, his new venture has raised $80 million of committed funding

Codiak intends to explore the potential for exosomes to deliver therapeutic payloads—such as inhibitory RNA—to cancer cells using technology developed by Raghu Kalluri, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Cancer Biology at MD Anderson. Preliminary research has focused on pancreatic cancer cells, and an exosome-based therapy for pancreatic cancer could be in clinical trials as early as next year.

Additionally, Codiak believes exosomes may be used as biomarkers for early detection of pancreatic cancer. Exosomes derived from pancreatic cancer cells express high levels of the protein glypican-1. Preliminary data in animal trials found that glypican-1 positive exosomes could be detected in the blood of sick mice prior to visible symptoms of the disease.

“This data is suggestive of the fact that we may have a simple test that allows for the detection of pancreatic cancer at a very early stage,” said Williams.

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