Brii Bio backs infectious disease startup while inking deal for its lead TB drug, doubling down on antibiotics
Almost two years after leaving GSK to launch Brii Bio with a whopping $260 million in funding, Zhi Hong is seeing the trans-Pacific infectious disease specialist he set out to build take shape.
“Our pipeline is coming together,” he told Endpoints News, with 12 partnered assets plus some internal programs.
As its latest partner, AN2 Therapeutics, comes into the limelight for the first time with a $12 million seed round, so is Brii’s plans in the antibiotics space. Brii has obtained China rights to AN2’s antibacterial targeting mycobacterium tuberculosis for multi-drug resistant TB, which it says is in the clinical stage.
Brii has also joined the syndicate alongside Mountain Group Partners, Adjuvant Capital and BioRock Ventures — an invest-and-license approach that was also seen in previously announced deals with Qpex Biopharma and Artizan Biosciences.
“The trio of partnerships has almost zero overlapping when it comes to the use of antibiotics,” Hong noted.
While Qpex’s portfolio of antibiotics is engineered to fight highly resistant, gram-negative pathogens with “critical needs” for treatment according to the WHO, Artizan boasts of a unique mechanism by which it identifies harmful bacteria — then specifically takes them out without the “collateral damage of typical antibiotics,” Hong said.
While Brii waits for — and aids — its collaborators to produce proof-of-concept data, the biotech’s clinical team is focused on advancing a potential hepatitis B cure. Both came from deals announced late last year.
Having recently begun a Phase Ib/IIa study for the immunotherapy from VBI Vaccines, they expect to garner initial results by the end of next year. Before that they should hear back from Vir, George Scangos’ newly public startup, on its own Phase I/II of the RNAi asset.
That gives them about a year before switching focus to antibiotics and double the headcount to around 80 — 60 in Beijing, where it has built an R&D center, and 20 in Hong’s home base of Durham, North Carolina.
“You’re not going to go to China overnight,” he said. “China’s regulatory processes, though it’s improved, can take six to nine months. So that gives you some time to build up a team.”
In targeting infectious disease, and essentially swearing off oncology, Hong is clear about eyeing a field where volume matters, which can be huge in a country like China. And there is at least one more disease area — one associated with an expanding middle class, urbanization and an aging population — that he says Brii will soon ink another pact in.
“So we are moving into one non-infectious disease area, and that’s probably it,” he said. “We don’t want to be too fragmented.”