Join­ing hunt for hep B cure, Brii Bio inks maid­en deals fea­tur­ing VBI, Vir, WuXi with a big ap­petite for more

This May, Zhi Hong de­buted the ul­tra-con­nect­ed trans-Pa­cif­ic up­start Brii Bio to bridge a gap in in­no­va­tion be­tween the US and Chi­na. Sev­en months in, he’s us­ing some of those con­nec­tions to in-li­cense two po­ten­tial cures for he­pati­tis B, en­ter an­oth­er dis­cov­ery col­lab­o­ra­tion and build a new glob­al head­quar­ters, kick­start­ing a quest to “cre­ate a new ground for in­fec­tious dis­eases.”

And with plen­ty of his $260 mil­lion launch fund still in the bank, the CEO al­ready has his eyes set on more part­ner­ships — all co­or­di­nat­ed from a new R&D hub be­ing built in Bei­jing, which will even­tu­al­ly be able to house up to 200 em­ploy­ees, as well as small­er out­posts across Shang­hai, San Fran­cis­co and Hong’s home base of Durham, North Car­oli­na.

“We are spread out in­to US and Chi­na and we have to call one place home, in a sense,” he tells me. “I’m hop­ing by the end of next year we will have about 50 peo­ple in Chi­na,” up from the cur­rent 20 split be­tween both sides of the Pa­cif­ic.

Lever­ag­ing in­sti­tu­tion­al sup­port for the Bei­jing fa­cil­i­ty and be­ing “very fru­gal” has al­lowed Brii to con­cen­trate its cash on deals, which will like­ly re­main mod­est in size: For Chi­na rights to VBI Vac­cines’ re­com­bi­nant pro­tein-based im­munother­a­peu­tic, Brii is pay­ing an up­front of $11 mil­lion, $7 mil­lion of which is an eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment. Ad­di­tion­al mile­stones add up to $117.5 mil­lion.

The RNAi ther­a­py from Vir, on the oth­er hand, is part of an ex­ist­ing li­cens­ing pact Hong struck with George Scan­gos when he left Glax­o­SmithK­line to start Brii. Orig­i­nat­ing from Al­ny­lam, VIR-2218 is de­signed to re­store pa­tients’ own im­mune re­sponse to HBV by knock­ing down sur­face anti­gens.

“But we can­not as­sume all the pa­tients will have suf­fi­cient amount of in­trin­sic im­mu­ni­ty,” he says. “This is where the VBI 2601 come in where we’re ac­tu­al­ly go­ing to for­mu­late this in such that will stim­u­late, in­duce a broad­er T cell as well as B cell re­sponse.”

There’s more than a hint of a com­bi­na­tion ap­proach here, though it will have to wait un­til the as­sets go past ear­ly-stage test­ing as monother­a­pies.

At the same time, Brii re­searchers will be work­ing on some in-house an­ti­body dis­cov­ery with WuXi Bi­o­log­ics via an ex­clu­sive col­lab­o­ra­tion, uti­liz­ing the CRO pow­er­house’s bis­pe­cif­ic plat­form to tack­le a cou­ple of nov­el im­munomod­u­la­to­ry tar­gets that Hong is stay­ing mum about. The pres­ti­gious Ts­inghua Uni­ver­si­ty, right next door to Brii’s Bei­jing site, will lend a hand on the bi­o­log­ics test­ing.

While ef­forts to tam­per with B cells, T cells and NK cells have in­spired con­sid­er­able in­ter­est in on­col­o­gy, it will rep­re­sent a new par­a­digm for in­fec­tious dis­ease, Hong says.

Hav­ing met with about 80 po­ten­tial part­ners, Hong is ready to ex­e­cute on a rapid suc­ces­sion of deals through 2020 — un­less a big deal comes along that ne­ces­si­tates an­oth­er round of fundrais­ing, he adds. “You nev­er know.”


Im­age: Zhi Hong. BRII BIO

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Kristen Hege, Bristol Myers Squibb SVP, early clinical development, oncology/hematology and cell therapy (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: Bris­tol My­er­s' Kris­ten Hege on cell ther­a­py, can­cer pa­tients and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion

Kristen Hege leads Bristol Myers Squibb’s early oncology discovery program carrying on from the same work at Celgene, which was acquired by BMS in 2019. She’s known for her early work in CAR-T, having pioneered the first CAR-T cell trial for solid tumors more than 25 years ago.

However, the eminent physician-scientist is more than just a drug developer mastermind. She’s also a practicing physician, mother to two young women, an avid backpacker and intersecting all those interests — a champion of young women and people of color in STEM and life sciences.

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Eisai and METAvivor plan to debut the latest 'This is MBC' campaign at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS).

Ei­sai re-ups metasta­t­ic breast can­cer aware­ness cam­paign with strik­ing pa­tient pho­tographs

Eisai is debuting the newest ads in its long-running “This is MBC” campaign this week. In what’s become an annual tradition, Eisai and metastatic breast cancer advocacy partner METAvivor will show the striking photographs of people living with metastatic breast cancer first at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS).

The new “Imagine” campaign features 12 patients photographed around waterfalls to symbolize that same kind of sudden drop into a pool that MBC causes in a person’s life, said Beth Fairchild, co-founder of #CancerCulture who was the president of METAvivor six years ago when the campaign began. Fairchild, who is living with MBC, has helped create all of the annual “This is MBC” campaigns.

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Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech look to toss Mod­er­na patent suit, call­ing claims 'unen­force­able'

Pfizer and BioNTech took a swing at Moderna’s Covid-19 patent claims in Massachusetts federal court on Monday, calling them “invalid,” “overbroad” and “unenforceable.”

The defendants also filed counterclaims against the Cambridge, MA-based biotech, seeking a dismissal of the case, recovery of court fees and an official judgment invalidating Moderna’s claims.

Moderna sued Pfizer and BioNTech back in August, alleging that the partners’ Covid-19 vaccine Comirnaty copied parts of Moderna’s vaccine technology patented before the pandemic, when it was developing an mRNA vaccine for MERS, another respiratory illness.

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Glen­mark hit with warn­ing let­ter over pro­ce­dures, qual­i­ty con­trol is­sues at In­dia man­u­fac­tur­ing plant

The generics producer Glenmark Pharmaceuticals has been handed a warning letter by US regulators.

The letter, which was sent to the manufacturer on Nov. 22, noted issues from an inspection over the summer at Glenmark’s facility in the town of Colvale, India, in the state of Goa.

According to the letter, the FDA found that Glenmark’s investigation of rejected batches of drugs “failed to extend to other batches, dosage strengths, and drug products.” The warning letter also noted that the site had failed to establish “adequate written procedures” for production and process control to ensure drugs have the correct strength, quality and purity.

Klick Health is lighting the way, literally, this holiday season to encourage connection for lonely seniors in long-term care facilities.

Klick Health an­nu­al hol­i­day spot­light se­nior lone­li­ness and the pow­er of con­nec­tion

Every year Klick Health leans into a cause for the holidays, and this year it’s highlighting the sometimes lonely season for seniors. So Klicksters, as employees call themselves, decided to brighten one nursing home community in hopes of inspiring others to do the same.

Klick literally lit up the Tony Stacey Centre for Veterans Care, a long-term care home in Toronto where 75% of residents receive no visitors during the holiday season. The agency brought staff and family along with lighting crews and musicians for a “Light the Way” event, creating a video of the experience debuting on Tuesday.

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Sum­i­to­vant sub­sidiaries En­zy­vant and Al­ta­vant merge in­to com­bined com­pa­ny

Two Sumitovant Biopharma entities are merging under one name, effective immediately.

Enzyvant Therapeutics and Altavant Sciences announced they have merged to form a singular entity focused on developing therapies for patients with rare diseases. The combined company will keep the name Enzyvant and along with clinical development will eventually include in-house manufacturing.

Bill Symonds, the current CEO of both Altavant and Enzyvant, is now CEO of the merged company.

Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion lays ground­work to un­wind Il­lu­mi­na's $7B+ Grail merg­er

The European Commission has recommended steps that — though not yet final — would require Illumina to “swiftly” unwind its controversial $7.1 billion Grail buyout.

The Commission delivered a “statement of objections” on Monday, detailing the process Illumina would need to take in divesting Grail, its blood testing spinout launched in 2016. Illumina re-acquired Grail back in August, despite criticism from both the FTC and EU.

Gossamer Bio CEO Faheem Hasnain at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Gos­samer’s Fa­heem Has­nain de­fends a round of pos­i­tive PAH da­ta as a clear win. But can these PhII re­sults stand up to scruti­ny?

Gossamer Bio $GOSS posted a statistically significant improvement for its primary endpoint in the key Phase II TORREY trial for lead drug seralutinib on Tuesday morning. But CEO Faheem Hasnain has some explaining to do on the important secondary of the crucial six-minute walk distance test — which will be the primary endpoint in Phase III — as the data on both endpoints fell short of expectations, missing one analyst’s bar on even modest success.

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