What are EVs and Exosomes?
Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are small bodies that are released by parent cells into the fluid between cells, or extracellular space. EVs include microvesicles and smaller nano-scale vesicles called exosomes. EVs perform several important cellular functions, including transferring DNA, RNA, and proteins from source cells to other cells and helping cells communicate with each other.
It used to be thought that EVs were like garbage carriers that take away unnecessary or toxic materials from cells to dump into the extracellular space, but it is now becoming clearer that their work and potential are powerful. EVs are an exciting research topic for researchers, whose breakthroughs in understanding and harnessing EVs are drawing money from the government, philanthropy, venture capital, and public market investors. Exosomes are being used to treat chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disease, and they are being used in many cancers that are otherwise untreatable by standard-of-care drugs and chemotherapy. Exosomes are also being studied and applied in orthopedics, sexual function, hair regrowth, and cosmeceuticals, which are cosmetic products with bioactive ingredients and health benefits.
A Rapidly Growing Market
The period from 2010 to 2020 brought significant growth in the use of exosomes, and the trend is set to continue. Research firm Grandview Research expects the exosome diagnostics and therapeutics market to exceed more than USD 2.28 billion by 2030. The commercial growth of EVs in the next decade is being catalyzed by investments today by a range of investors.
Companies that have invested into exosome-related therapeutics include corporate venture capital outfits like GV (formerly Google Ventures), which has put money into EV therapeutics companies like Evox Therapeutics. That company raised $45.4 million in Series B financing in 2018 from GV and others on the strength of its plan to use EV research from a leading Swedish institution and Oxford to deliver small and large molecules to target the human brain and central nervous system. ArunA Bio, which specializes in neural EVs, raised $13 million in common stock financing
Massachusetts-based Codiak Biosciences has raised $168.5 million through Series C since its 2016 founding. Codiak has paired with Jazz Pharmaceuticals to bring engineered exosomes to market for the treatment of five cancer targets not reachable by known methods, guaranteeing Codiak at least $56 million upfront. In other joint ventures, PureTech Health PLC has linked up with Roche with an upside potential of over $1 billion if the exosome company boosts the success of the pharma giant’s next wave of drugs.
Public market investors are also showing a deeper interest and willingness to explore EV stocks. There are publicly traded companies specializing in exosomes that retail investors can access, such as Avalon GloboCare (US: AVCO), Capricor Therapeutics, Inc. (US: CAPR) and Australia’s Exopharm Limited (ASX-EX1). The rising tide of interest from venture capital to corporate partnership funding that touches retail investors will only swell further as the full potential of EVs across a range of uses becomes clear.
The Academic Research
The cutting edge of drug technology is in academic medicine, and there are strong prospects for a steady pipeline of innovations in both extracellular vesicles and exosomes coming from top institutions globally.
Dr: Joy Wolfram’s Nanomedicine and Extracellular Vesicles lab in Florida part of Mayo Clinic is exploring organotropic drug delivery which is a new way to treat disease by targeting drugs at specific organs. The laboratory of Dr. Stephen Gould at Johns Hopkins investigates how EVs work, including how they develop and are taken up by neighboring cells. The lab also looks at how EVs affect cell-to-cell communication and polarity. This research also improves understanding of how retroviruses like HIV originate, because they originate in a similar way to exosomes and microvesicles.
A Wide Array of Clinical Applications
Immune cell- and cancer cell-derived EVs have potential in clinical applications against a wide array of diseases. Immune cell-derived EVs have unique functions that have made them the focus of new immunotherapeutic strategies in recent years. They can also offer many advantages relative to whole cell-based therapies (including ease of manufacture, stability during storage & transport and reduced risks associated with transplantation). These attributes make them critical to cellular therapy advances. In addition, EVs can in certain cases cross physiological barriers that challenge whole cells (i.e. the blood brain barrier), potentially also opening up more therapeutic space.
Immune cell-derived EVs can have diagnostic value as disease-specific biomarkers, including in the evaluation of transplantation outcomes. This alone would help health systems save millions in rejection costs and misallocation of precious donated organs. Immune cell-derived EVs can also have therapeutic value. NK cell-derived EVs for example, have several characteristics in their makeup, targeting, and stability that make them promising candidates for ‘off-the-shelf’ anti-cancer treatments. Moreover, tumor-derived EVs can be used to expand and activate immune cells to show enhanced anti-tumoral functions. In conclusion, there is huge potential for EV to influence the body’s immune response to disease, and for the use of EVs as agents in immunotherapy. To learn about immune-derived EVs, take a look at this review article.
Through a combination of basic research to understand EVs and applied research to show their application potential in real-world scenarios, science will teach us the true power of extracellular vesicles. Look for clinical advances and approvals for a range of therapeutics and other products in the coming years, bringing the transformative curative potential to the public and stellar returns to investors.
For more information on all types of innovations in extracellular vesicle and exosome science, visit the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles and its publication in the Journal of Extracellular Vesicles or follow industry leaders through blogs and social media platforms like Twitter.