A group of Chinese investors led by 3SBio and Sequoia China are bankrolling the next leg of development at Refuge Biotechnologies, a Bay Area biotech that’s been using CRISPR technology to control gene expression.
The syndicate is providing $25 million in a Series B as Refuge fine tunes a technology initially developed in the lab of Stanley Qi at Stanford. Qi mutated the Cas9 protein so it couldn’t do the cutting used in gene editing. That way it can be used to deliver a transcriptional activator or repressor to turn a gene off or on.
“We don’t seek to compete against CAR-T,” he tells me. “We make everybody’s CAR-T that much better.”
CEO Bing Wang says that using the tech, Refuge can simultaneously tackle a range of, say, checkpoint inhibitors like PD-1 or CTLA-4 or LAG-3. And he expects the biotech, which had earlier raised $9.5 million in seed cash and Series A money, is at least a year and a half away from the clinic.
The two co-lead investors have a first right of refusal for the China license to the tech, but he’s free to work with partners in the rest of the world.
The new round gets Refuge right up to the IND stage, adds Wang, a former investment banker at Barclays — where he was director of healthcare investment banking — who says fluency in Mandarin helped line up the syndicate at a time Chinese VCs have been actively seeking out US biotechs to invest in.
In addition to the co-leads new investors Danhua Capital, Sangel Capital and Ocean Pine Healthcare Fund jumped in. Refuge’s existing investors, 3E Bioventures, WuXi Healthcare Ventures, and ShangBay Capital, also participated.
Zhenping Zhu of 3SBio and Trency Gu of Sequoia China are jumping onto the board of directors. And along with the round Refuge announced the arrival of Francesco Marincola, a veteran of the NIH and AbbVie, as the biotech’s new chief scientific officer.
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