Con­nect Bio­phar­ma snags $115 mil­lion in Se­ries C to de­vel­op ar­se­nal of im­mune mod­u­la­tors

Zheng Wei and William Pan met in a mol­e­c­u­lar bi­ol­o­gy study group in col­lege in Guangzhou, Chi­na.

Zheng Wei

In the fol­low­ing decades, the duo trans­formed from col­lege note-tak­ers to co-founders of Taicang, Chi­na-based Con­nect Bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. And on Mon­day, they com­plet­ed a $115 mil­lion Se­ries C to pro­pel their pipeline of im­mune mod­u­la­tors.

“The amount and the type of in­vestors that we have in this round — it re­al­ly is a big boost for the com­pa­ny,” said Wei, who most re­cent­ly served as di­rec­tor of im­munol­o­gy at San Diego-based Are­na Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

“We have come a long way” since Con­nect was found­ed in 2012, he added lat­er. The com­pa­ny has ad­di­tion­al op­er­a­tions in Shang­hai, Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, and San Diego.

The Se­ries C was led by RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, and in­clud­ed fel­low new in­vestors Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures, Box­er Cap­i­tal and HBM Health­care In­vest­ments. In ear­ly 2019, Con­nect snagged $55 mil­lion in Se­ries B fund­ing, which it used to fund a mul­ti­ple as­cend­ing dose tri­al of its drug CBP-201 for atopic der­mati­tis.

The most re­cent round will sup­port fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of CBP-201, as well as CBP-307 — the com­pa­ny’s two lead can­di­dates, both in Phase II test­ing. CBP-307, a mol­e­cule mod­u­la­tor of S1P1, is slight­ly ahead of the pack, with two on­go­ing Phase II tri­als for ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis and Crohn’s dis­ease. It was the com­pa­ny’s first drug to en­ter clin­i­cal tri­al, Wei said.

CBP-201 isn’t far be­hind, with one on­go­ing Phase II tri­al for atopic der­mati­tis. Wei ex­pects CBP-201 will “even­tu­al­ly catch up” to CBP-307 in de­vel­op­ment.

For now, Con­nect is fo­cused on com­plet­ing Phase II tri­als for both drugs in the sec­ond half of next year. If all goes well, the com­pa­ny will use top line da­ta to pitch a Phase III tri­al to the FDA as soon as pos­si­ble, Wei said.

“I have been in the in­dus­try for quite a while now. And there are two things I have ob­served: One is that just as we be­gin to think that this is about as much as we can do to help pa­tients, new break­throughs come along, and they re­al­ly move the treat­ment ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty, every­thing up to a new lev­el. I have seen that hap­pen all the time,” Wei said. “The Num­ber 2 is that de­spite all these in­no­va­tions and break­throughs, the need to man­age some of the se­vere dis­eases, au­toim­mune dis­eases, (and) in­flam­ma­tion is still very large.”

CBP-201 is a mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body de­signed to in­hib­it IL-4Rα sig­nal­ing. Phase 1b re­sults showed that a four-week treat­ment im­proved skin le­sion and pru­ri­tus in mod­er­ate-to-se­vere atopic der­mati­tis pa­tients. If ap­proved, the drug would ri­val Sanofi and Re­gen­eron’s Dupix­ent, which was ap­proved by the FDA to treat atopic der­mati­tis in 2017, and has a list price of $3,110.09 per car­ton.

“Even with Dupix­ent, there’s still a lot of space to be im­proved,” Wei said, adding that Con­nect hopes to beat the al­ready-ap­proved drug in ef­fi­ca­cy mea­sures.

CBP-201 is al­so in pre­clin­i­cal tri­als for asth­ma and chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps. Some of the Se­ries C will be used to ad­vance oth­er pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams, in­clud­ing CBP-174 for the treat­ment of pru­ri­tus.

“We want to be a com­pa­ny that re­al­ly can de­vel­op and in­no­vate and bring new drugs in­to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, rather than in-li­cens­ing oth­er peo­ple’s drugs … We be­lieve that some­one needs to start from the first step,” Wei said.

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Big week for Alzheimer’s da­ta; As­traZeneca buys cell ther­a­py start­up; Dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics hits a pay­er wall; and more

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Chris Kim, Liminatus Pharma CEO

A fledg­ling biotech goes SPAC route to bankroll can­cer vac­cine, CAR-T and CD47

A relatively unknown clinical-stage biotech — backed by a Korean lighting company and focused on a cancer vaccine out of a Thomas Jefferson University lab — is headed to Nasdaq via the blank check route.

Liminatus Pharma will get about $316 million in proceeds from the SPAC combination to fund its ongoing Phase IIa study of a cancer vaccine, bring a CAR-T therapy into the clinic and prep a CD47 immune checkpoint inhibitor for human trials, the company said this week.

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Am­gen, years be­hind ri­vals, says PhI obe­si­ty drug shows dura­bil­i­ty signs

While NBC ran “The Biggest Loser” for 17 seasons, deemed toxic by critics for the reality show’s punishing exercise and diet upheavals, researchers in pharmaceutical labs have been attempting to create prescription drugs that induce weight loss — and one pharma betting it can require less frequent dosing is out with a new crop of data.

Amgen was relatively late to the game compared to its approved competitor Novo Nordisk and green light-approaching rival Eli Lilly. But early data suggested Amgen’s AMG 133 led to a 14.5% weight reduction in the first few months of dosing, buoying shares earlier this fall, and now the California pharma is out with its first batch of durability data showing that figure fell slightly to 11.2% about 150 days after the last dose. Amgen presented at the 20th World Congress on Insulin Resistance, Diabetes & Cardiovascular Disease on Saturday afternoon.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls

Talk therapy didn’t help Lily with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But a video game did.

As the 10-year-old zooms through icy waters and targets flying creatures on the snow-capped planet Frigidus, she builds attention skills, thanks to Akili Interactive Labs’ video game EndeavorRx. She’s now less anxious and scattered, allowing her to stay on a low dose of ADHD medication, according to her mom Violet Vu.

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Eli Lil­ly’s Alzheimer’s drug clears more amy­loid ear­ly than Aduhelm in first-ever head-to-head. Will it mat­ter?

Ahead of the FDA’s decision on Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug donanemab in February, the Big Pharma is dropping a first cut of data from one of the more interesting trials — but less important in a regulatory sense — at an Alzheimer’s conference in San Francisco.

In the unblinded 148-person study, Eli Lilly pitted its drug against Aduhelm, Biogen’s drug that won FDA approval but lost Medicare coverage outside of clinical trials. Notably, the study didn’t look at clinical outcomes, but rather the clearance of amyloid, a protein whose buildup is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

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Bay­er starts work on $43M+ ex­pan­sion of OTC man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Penn­syl­va­nia

German pharma giant Bayer will be looking to make a significant investment into one of its US plants that produces over-the-counter drugs.

Bayer announced that it will spend $43.6 million to expand its facility in Myerstown, PA, a small town east of Harrisburg. Bayer plans to increase the site by 70,000 square feet and will have room for the installation of eight packaging lines and an area to install rooftop solar panels. The project is expected to be completed by 2025 and will add around 50 to 75 jobs.

US month­ly costs for biosim­i­lars 'sub­stan­tial­ly high­er' than Ger­many or Switzer­land, JA­MA re­search finds

As the global biologics market is expected to hit nearly the half-trillion-dollar mark this year, new JAMA research points to the importance of timely biosimilar entry, particularly as fewer biosimilars are entering the US than in Europe, and as monthly treatment costs for biosimilars were “substantially higher” in the US compared with Germany and Switzerland.

Among the three countries, biosimilar market share at launch was highest in Germany, but increased at the fastest rate in the US, the authors from the University of Zurich’s Institute of Law wrote in JAMA Network Open today.

Kirk Myers is shown in a still image from a new film series showcasing the efforts of HIV advocates funded by Gilead.

Gilead spot­lights HIV projects and the com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers dri­ving them in new mi­ni-doc­u­men­tary films

Gilead is going behind the scenes of some of the HIV initiatives it funds through grants in a new film series narrated by the people helming the projects.

The first four films and leaders come from across the US — Arianna Lint in Florida and Puerto Rico, Cleve Jones in San Francisco, June Gipson in Mississippi and Kirk Myers in Texas. Their HIV-focused efforts range from addressing unmet needs of the transgender community to delivering social services and high-quality health care in underserved communities.

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