Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
Simba Gill has devoted his career to ignoring the status quo. It’s no surprise then that even while he was still an undergrad, Gill was drawn to the emerging world of biotech, which presented the perfect opportunity to break new ground.
According to Gill, while many saw the biotech space as uncharted territory, he saw biotech and immunology as “opportunities for growth” and to make a positive change in the world.
After completing his science-focused undergrad studies, he achieved an MBA and Ph.D., then launched a career that would successfully combine both of his academic worlds.
As a partner at a private equity firm, Gill learned to identify promising biotechs — a skill he carried into Flagship Pioneering, where he currently serves as a partner. And in 2015, Flagship’s VentureLabs became the birthplace for Evelo Biosciences, which asked Gill to take the helm.
Colleagues note that Gill is a true champion of Evelo’s potential to help billions across the world and has believed in the company’s unconventional drug discovery approach since it was a “gem of an idea.”
Evelo’s pipeline is aimed at a major indication area: inflammation. According to Gill’s nominator, the company has built a novel platform that targets cells in the small intestinal axis, or Sintax — a “newly uncovered area of human biology.” Its lead candidate, developed with single strains of microbes that are chosen for their defined pharmacological properties, is in a phase 2 trial for atopic dermatitis and is awaiting feedback from health authorities on registration trials in psoriasis — putting Evelo on the cusp of transitioning into a commercial enterprise.
Here, Gill discusses why Evelo is the “ultimate blue ocean company” and why the post-pandemic world will determine which biotechs have what it takes to survive.
PharmaVoice: What lessons have you learned during the pandemic?
Simba Gill: The recent crash in the biotech stock market revealed the difference between dedicated entrepreneurs who understand how hard biotech can be and the people who got into the industry for the wrong reasons. The dedicated entrepreneurs in this market will be the ones ultimately left standing — others won’t survive. I think that’s great and a much-needed evolutionary selective pressure on the industry.
I’ve worked in this industry for almost four decades. It began as an industry focused on groundbreaking science and a belief in the need for a slightly crazy culture that could break the conservative barriers of Big Pharma with the ultimate purpose being first and foremost to help patients — but with an understanding that it was a risky, long and hard journey. Biotech should not be a path to the “get rich quick if we are lucky” mentality.
What initially drew you to the life sciences industry?
My passion for the life sciences industry can be traced back to my roots. I come from a traditional Indian medical family. My mom is an obstetrician and gynecologist and my dad a general surgeon. I was brought up with the now classic and academically supported ideas, meaning encourage curiosity, encourage zest for life and encourage the child to find his or her passion. I was also very much brought up on a view that we have the responsibility to help other people.
“At Evelo, we have a motto that guides our daily work: transforming healthcare for everyone, everywhere.”
CEO, Evelo Biosciences
Beyond my parents’ medical background, I was raised to figure out what my joy in life was and pursue that passion. When I was 13, I considered two paths for my life’s direction — the classic world of clinical medicine or the world of medical research. I thought critically about which type of person could have the maximum positive impact, would it be somebody who discovered, for example, a major therapeutic for helping people with a very common disease? Or would it be a doctor like my mother who worked to the age of 82 and had treated huge numbers of patients, and the exponential effects on those lives?
At this age, I was serendipitously introduced to one of the world’s top immunologists and fell in love with the idea of transformative science as a way of discovering and developing medicines. We were in the early days of immunology, molecule biology and modern genetics, and this person gave me the advice that immunology was going to change the world.
What is your blue ocean?
Evelo is the ultimate blue ocean biotech company. We are addressing the treatment gap for the two largest and most important unmet therapeutic healthcare needs for populations around the world. Existing medicines, because of their limitations, are not generally used for the majority of patients with major chronic diseases — who are those with what is wrongly referred to as mild to moderate disease. We do not yet have effective, safe and well-tolerated, orally delivered and affordable medicines for the hundreds of millions of patients who suffer from inflammatory diseases globally.
Modern biotech has mostly focused on treating late-stage, life-threatening or very severe and rare diseases, which has proven lucrative. This has largely left behind the treatment of chronic disease throughout life.
Evelo’s Sintax medicines are being developed from the outset to be affordable and available for all the future 10 billion people on the planet. We are driven by the fact that we have a new biology and a new type of therapeutic profile that doesn’t exist anywhere else in biotech. This allows us to go further and make a truly revolutionary impact beyond what’s previously been achieved in biotech.