Chi­na's CStone bags $260M Se­ries B for am­bi­tious I/O work, ex­pand­ing its list of mar­quee in­vestors

The era of im­muno-on­col­o­gy com­bos has ar­rived, and Chi­na’s go­ing to play a big role — or so says the back­ers of CStone Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, a fast-grow­ing Chi­nese I/O play­er that just clinched $260 mil­lion from a slate of mar­quee Asian in­vestors.

Frank Jiang

De­scribed by the com­pa­ny as the largest Se­ries B fund­ing in the his­to­ry of the Chi­nese bio­phar­ma in­dus­try, the round fea­tured GIC, Sin­ga­pore’s sov­er­eign wealth fund, in the lead role. It’s joined by new in­vestors Se­quoia Chi­na, Yun­feng Cap­i­tal, Arch Ven­ture Part­ners and more. Ex­ist­ing in­vestors al­so chipped in; no­tably, Ge Li’s WuXi Health­care Ven­tures had been in­volved since the be­gin­ning.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the recog­ni­tion and sup­port from top do­mes­tic and over­seas in­vestors, which en­abled our Se­ries B fi­nanc­ing to be com­plet­ed in mere­ly two months,” CEO Frank Jiang said in a state­ment. “This round of fi­nanc­ing is crit­i­cal for CStone’s cur­rent and near-term growth.”

CStone made a splash in Chi­na when it launched with a $140 mil­lion Se­ries A back in 2016 and ap­point­ed Sanofi ex­ec Jiang to the helm. Be­fore jump­ing to the Suzhou-based biotech, Jiang was the French drug­mak­er’s head of Asia-Pa­cif­ic R&D, over­see­ing clin­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties from Phase I to IV.

And it’s keen on keep­ing the mo­men­tum. With more than 10 as­sets in the pipeline, CStone is cur­rent­ly putting its lead PD-L1 drug through a Phase I dose es­ca­la­tion study and, in Jan­u­ary, filed three INDs for its oth­er can­cer ther­a­py can­di­dates, which tar­get CT­LA-4, PD-1 and MEK re­spec­tive­ly. Ex­ecs made it clear that they were go­ing af­ter the fron­trun­ners in each field, such as Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s Yer­voy, Mer­ck’s Keytru­da and No­var­tis’ Mekin­ist.

Its lat­est in­fu­sion of cash will help dri­ve all of that for­ward, with a spe­cial fo­cus on CS1001, the PD-L1 mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body.

The com­pa­ny — which is led by a group of sea­soned ex­ecs from the likes of Mer­ck and BeiGene — al­so in­di­cat­ed they will ex­pand their pipeline through in-house R&D and part­ner­ships. An­oth­er round of re­cruit­ing is al­so in sight.

“We are con­fi­dent in the long-term growth po­ten­tial of Chi­na’s bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try and CStone’s lead­ing po­si­tion in the field of im­muno-on­col­o­gy,” said Choo Yong Cheen of GIC.

An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Can an FDA hus­tle up on trastuzum­ab be far be­hind?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Mer­ck Serono’s Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent and Glob­al Head of On­col­o­gy
EL­LIOTT LEVY — Am­gen’s Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Glob­al De­vel­op­ment
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfiz­er On­col­o­gy’s Chief De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cer

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Ver­sant-backed Chi­nook gets a $65M launch round for its dis­cov­ery quest in a resur­gent kid­ney field

Versant is once again stepping off the beaten track in biotech to see if they can blaze a trail of their own in a field that has looked too thorny to many investors for years.

The venture group and their partners at Apple Tree are bringing their latest creation out of stealth mode today. Born in Versant’s Inception Sciences’ Chinook Therapeutics is betting that its preclinical take on kidney disease can get an early lead among the companies starting up in the field.

Sir An­drew Dil­lon, NICE's first — and on­ly — chief ex­ec­u­tive to step down next year

Using a laptop borrowed from his former employer, South London’s St George’s Hospital, Sir Andrew Dillon set about establishing NICE — launched by the then health secretary Frank Dobson — in 1999.  On Thursday, the UK cost-effectiveness watchdog said its first and only chief executive — Dillon — is stepping down in March 2020.

Back in the day, decisions about which drugs and interventions were funded by the National Health Service (NHS) were made at the local level, but this ‘postcode prescribing’ system was fraught with skewed healthcare deployment making the structure unsustainable. A national system was deemed necessary — and NICE was formed to bridge that gap.

Eight weeks be­tween each HIV treat­ment? GSK notch­es PhI­II win as it chas­es OK for long-act­ing reg­i­men

GSK has cleared another test in its grand plan to topple Gilead’s HIV dominance by offering alternative treatments that consist of fewer drugs and last longer. A year after scoring positive Phase III data on a four-week course of cabotegravir and rilpivirine, its ViiV subsidiary now says that an eight-week regimen seem to work just as well.

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Finch grabs a $53M round de­signed to take their ‘break­through’ mi­cro­bio­me treat­ment through a po­ten­tial­ly piv­otal tri­al

With a breakthrough designation in one hand and a fresh $53 million in venture backing in the other, Somerville, MA-based Finch Therapeutics is taking a shot at a one-trial pathway to a possible FDA OK for their new treatment for preventing recurrent C. difficile infections.

The funding brings their total raise for the microbiome company to $130 million, CEO Mark Smith tells me — enough money to pave a runway past the FDA approval they’ve sketched into the most optimistic version for their near-term future. 

Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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