China backers help bankroll a $100M mega-round as an influential antibody engineer readies trials
Kymab turned to some marquee names in the UK and the US for the money needed to establish the company as a high-profile player in the world of antibody customization over the past 6 years. But now the game plan for the next three years will be underwritten by an expanded syndicate that includes two new players based in China, extending its network of backers into a global loop.
The biotech has unveiled a whopping $100 million round led by ORI Healthcare Fund — founded by Simone (Hong Fang) Song, the former chief of Goldman Sachs’ Healthcare Fund in China — and the manufacturer Shenzhen Hepalink Pharmaceutical Company.
To hear veteran biotech exec and Kymab CEO Dave Chiswell tell it, this was all part of a carefully constructed effort to establish new ties in what is fast becoming a key global hub in the biopharma world.
The Cambridge, UK-based biotech has been steadily building its syndicate since the Wellcome Trust kicked things off with the $30 million Series A round for the Sanger Institute spinout back in 2010. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation stepped in with Neil Woodford’s two funds and Malin Corp. in 2015 with a $90 million Series B. This latest funding brings their total to a remarkable $220 million.
The goal at this stage: “Build a proper pipeline,” says Chiswell, who co-founded Cambridge Antibody Technology, an anchor player to the UK biotech industry which was acquired by AstraZeneca. Chiswell had been executive chairman at Kymab before he added the CEO title in early 2015.
The company is built on the work of Allan Bradley, one of the world’s leading genome engineers who did some pioneering work at Sanger on a new mouse model — which debuted as the Kymouse — that could be used to generate new and better human antibodies. Bradley had been a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and Baylor professor before taking the lead role at Sanger. He’s now the chief technical officer at Kymab, where immuno-oncology, hematology and inflammatory conditions are big focuses.
Kymab’s lead program now is focused on OX40L, a T-cell activator involved in inflammatory diseases. It is expected to be in the clinic in early 2017, says the CEO, who’s planning to have 5 independent products in the clinic by 2019. Kymab investigators will be presenting preclinical data at ASH on graft-vs-host disease, which Chiswell thinks very highly of.
Kymab now has a substantial staff of 120, which should continue to grow, though only slowly. And with enough cash in reserves to get into 2019, Chiswell concedes that the next funding step for the biotech may well be an IPO — though only time will tell.
“It’s very early,” he notes, “but we may look like a public company in 2019, or 2020.” Getting there required an expansion of a syndicate with deep roots around the world.
“Kymab always saw that China was a big opportunity,” Chiswell tells me, “but we didn’t know how best to realize it.” So they took some time, working with consultants and doing their homework on the country and its biotech interests and investors. “It’s been quite a long courtship with China.”
Their reputation in the antibody field has helped, along with a collaboration with MD Anderson in Houston.
“Speed and quality helps,” says the CEO. “In the end, it’s your choice of antibodies. We think we have the best way of making the best antibodies.” And within a year they can have new antibodies tested in mice and in manufacturing.
Now, they have the money to establish proof-of-concept data on their own internal pipeline.