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.
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.