Baptized by Covid-19 fire, Brii Bio reaps $320M Hong Kong IPO to carry on with pipeline for infectious diseases and beyond
Zhi Hong started Brii Bio three years ago with the clear vision that his trans-Pacific startup should have the best of both worlds — top-notch innovation from the US, vast patient pool and market in China — tethered by his years of experience working at GlaxoSmithKline’s infectious disease team.
In a sense, the strategy was exemplified (even if slightly reversed) as the biotech decided to join the hunt for a Covid-19 antibody early last year: Its drug, which was developed together with Chinese scientists based on monoclonal antibodies isolated from recovered patients in China, was selected by the NIH for large-scale platform trials in the US.
But when it came to launching an IPO, Brii Bio had to choose: US or China first?
The biotech ultimately went with the Hong Kong exchange, where it’s now raised $320 million to steer a diverse slate of programs through the clinic with a focus on public health. A total of 11 cornerstone investors backed the listing, which saw the company price at the top of its range.
“I think Hong Kong stock market has become one of the most active fundraising markets for biotech companies in the past two years,” CFO Ankang Li told Endpoints News.
Besides, outside of Covid-19, Brii’s most advanced candidates are the two hepatitis B programs in-licensed from Vir and VBI, which are being tested as a combo in a Phase IIb trial. Asian investors, the company believes, are more familiar with the Chinese market that it’s trying to tap.
“So for HBV market in general, I think China is definitely the largest market globally,” Li said. “We have more than 78 million patients infected by HBV. So this is a huge market, and the current standard of care, which includes antiviral and interferon, they are not really satisfying treatments because they deliver very low cure rate, below 7%.”
Even with bigger players like Roche pursuing the same goal, Brii is confident about its chances of leading the field on its home turf, with the aim of getting a marketed drug around 2024.
Behind that is a once-weekly, long-acting oral HIV drug that Brii hopes will give GSK’s ViiV and Gilead a run for their money. Li noted that Hong, the CEO, actually started the research on the first long-acting HIV regimens while at GSK, and there’s potential to go even longer once they prove their technology works.
That specific knowledge on long-acting formulations also explains why Brii has decided to tag two CNS programs — one for postpartum depression and the other for major depressive disorder — to the otherwise strictly infectious disease-focused pipeline.
On top of these in-house programs, Brii licensed China rights to multidrug resistant antibiotics from Qpex and an experimental treatment for multi-drug resistant TB from AN2. It also has a partnership in place with microbiome specialist Artizan.
As the HBV program advances and the antibiotics trials start, Li expects the clinical team to grow in China — where the strategy is to focus on “very large indications” with enough volume to overcome pricing barriers. The development of Brii’s HIV and CNS drugs, on the other hand, will be centered around the US. They currently have about 60 staffers in China while the US headcount is around 40.
Thanks to Covid-19, Brii has had an crash course on clinical development, speeding from preclinical work into Phase III within a year or so and leveraging NIH resources so that they can keep enough money for their other programs. Although the antibody, like others from Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline/Vir, failed to help hospitalized patients, Brii said it seems to retain neutralizing activity against multiple variants. Results from the Phase III ACTIV-2 study, targeted at the outpatient setting, are due to read out soon.
Brii also has Phase II trials underway in China to address a recent surge and plans to make the drug available to patients if it works, Li said — although he implies that it won’t be the biggest priority moving forward.
“We are still committed to further develop our discovery and early R&D team in the US, so in that area I think the US team will also grow,” Li said. “So I think we will take a very balanced approach and both sides will probably see a significant growth in the next one or two years.”