Bank­ing on Shang­hai's biotech boom, this Eli Lil­ly-backed play­er grabs $100M to push next-gen I/O ther­a­pies

Every six months for the past two years or so, five renowned sci­en­tists and biotech vets — David Shen of NGM Bio, Ar­lene Sharpe and Vi­jay Kuchroo of Har­vard, Juno co-founder Phil Green­berg and Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go’s Tom Gajew­s­ki — would meet. There (most re­cent­ly at Na­pa Val­ley over wine), as a sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board, they would of­fer ad­vice to a biotech start­up based an ocean away in Shang­hai, on their quest to un­cov­er new tar­gets and new an­ti­body ther­a­peu­tics for im­muno-on­col­o­gy.

Dar­ren Ji

That com­pa­ny, Elpi­science, is now tak­ing the wraps off a $100 mil­lion Se­ries B to ush­er two of its 12 com­pounds through clin­i­cal tri­als, bring a cou­ple in­to the clin­ic, and in-li­cense more from glob­al part­ners.

Mean­while, thanks to a RMB$150 mil­lion ($21.4 mil­lion) col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bank of Chi­na and Agri­cul­tur­al Bank of Chi­na, they will al­so be build­ing their own man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties — big enough to even­tu­al­ly trans­fer all pro­duc­tion back from con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Elpi­science found it­self in the right place at the right time, CEO Dar­ren Ji told End­points News, as Shang­hai es­tab­lish­es it­self as a biotech hub on par with both the Cam­bridges or the Bay Area.

“I told my in­vestors es­sen­tial­ly I will have my man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, with all equip­ment and peo­ple in a year with­out spend­ing in­vestors’ mon­ey yet,” he said.

By this time next year, Ji added, he ex­pects to have grown his team from 50 to 120, in­clud­ing more staffers on the chem­istry, man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­trol as well as clin­i­cal and reg­u­la­to­ry sides.

Hong­tao Lu

The cur­rent team is heav­i­ly geared to­ward dis­cov­ery, with around 30 of them work­ing on Elpi­science’s three tech plat­forms: Elpisource for tar­get screen­ing and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion; Im­munoshine to as­sess po­ten­tial drug can­di­dates on im­mune cell lines; and AbLego to for­mu­late their own bis­pecifics.

Ji re­cent­ly wooed the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of No­var­tis In­sti­tute for Bio­med­ical Re­search in Chi­na, Robert Arch, to be­come Elpi­science’s head of re­search. Arch re­ports to Hong­tao Lu, co-founder and CSO, who brought sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence build­ing a pipeline in Zai Lab’s ear­li­est days.

A new CMO will soon join from the US, Ji said, to help steer clin­i­cal pro­grams for ES101 and ES102, with an ini­tial fo­cus on lung can­cer. Elpi­science had in-li­censed the two com­pounds — the first a bis­pe­cif­ic hit­ting 4-1BB se­lec­tive­ly up­on PD-L1 bind­ing, the sec­ond an OX40 ag­o­nist — from La Jol­la-based In­hi­brx.

By re­cruit­ing from all over the world and putting to­geth­er a stel­lar sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board, Elpi­science is cir­cum­vent­ing a bar­ri­er that Ji be­lieves Shang­hai, or Chi­na for that mat­ter, needs to over­come for its biotech scene to re­al­ly boom. He calls it “brain­pow­er.”

“Aca­d­e­m­ic in­no­va­tion, aca­d­e­m­ic cal­iber, is re­al­ly the foun­da­tion for both sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment and al­so peo­ple sup­ply,” he said. “These years, Chi­nese acad­e­mia has been re­al­ly ad­vanc­ing strong with pub­li­ca­tions, in­no­va­tions, all those, but be­ing able to trans­late those in­to com­mer­cial­ly vi­able tech­nolo­gies or ther­a­pies, there’s still a gap — a gap be­tween both tech­nol­o­gy trans­fer and al­so the gap be­tween trans­la­tion­al per­son­nel.”

Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures, where Ji is a part­ner, bought on­to the vi­sion ear­ly by launch­ing the start­up with the help of Hill­house Cap­i­tal Group and CHD In­vest­ments. Hyfin­i­ty In­vest­ments led the cur­rent round with new in­vestors Ten­cent, GT­JA In­vest­ment Group, Dy­ee Cap­i­tal, Oriza Hold­ings, Ming Bioven­tures, Wis­doMont, Park­way Glob­al and oth­ers.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.