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

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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UP­DAT­ED: Stay tuned: Bio­gen’s num­bers are great — it’s their wor­ri­some fu­ture that leaves an­a­lysts skit­tish

Biogen came out with an upbeat assessment of their Q2 numbers today, discounting the arrival of a key rival for its blockbuster Spinraza franchise. But the top execs remain grimly determined to not say much anything new about the sore points that have dragged down its stock, including the future of its big investment in Alzheimer’s or how it plans to invest the considerable cash that the big biotech continues to reap.

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Why wait? Cel­gene re­struc­tures a big Jounce pact — ze­ro­ing in on new I/O path­way with $530M deal and bump­ing ICOS

Celgene’s business team isn’t waiting for the big merger with Bristol-Myers Squibb to go through before syncing its strategy with the new mother ship.

Tuesday evening the big biotech unveiled a $530 million deal — $50 million in upfront cash — to amend their alliance with Jounce Therapeutics $JNCE to gain worldwide rights to JTX-8064, an antibody that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages. Their old, $2.6 billion deal is being scrapped, leaving Jounce with a pipeline that includes the lead drug, the ICOS-targeting vopratelimab.

PACT Phar­ma says it's per­fect­ed the tech to se­lect neoanti­gens for per­son­al­ized ther­a­py — now on­to the clin­ic

At PACT Pharma, the lofty goal to unleash a “tsunami” of T cells personalized for each patient has hinged on the ability to correctly identify the neoantigens that form something of a fingerprint for each tumor, and extract the small group of T cells primed to attack the cancer. It still has a long way to go testing a treatment in humans, but the biotech says it has nailed that highly technical piece of the process.

UP­DAT­ED: My­ovan­t's uter­ine fi­broid drug looks com­pet­i­tive in PhI­II — but can they van­quish mighty Ab­b­Vie?

Vivek Ramaswamy’s Myovant $MYOV has closely matched its positive first round of Phase III data for their uterine fibroid drug relugolix, setting up a head-to-head rivalry with pharma giant AbbVie as the little biotech steers to the market with a planned filing in Q4.

Here’s how Myovant plans to prevail over the AbbVie $ABBV empire.

In the study, 71.2% of women receiving once-daily relugolix combination therapy achieved the clinical response they were looking for, compared to only 14.7% in the control arm. The data comfortably reflected the same outcomes in the first Phase III — 73.4% of women receiving once-daily oral relugolix combination therapy achieved the responder criteria compared with 18.9% of women receiving placebo — which will reassure regulators that they are getting the carefully randomized data that qualifies for the FDA’s gold standard for success.

Lit­tle Mar­i­nus sees its shares eclipsed as the Sage ri­val fails to com­pare on PPD in PhII

The executive team at Sage $SAGE have skirted another potential pitfall on its way to racking up a big future for its depression drug Zulresso.

Little Marinus Pharmaceuticals $MRNS had sought to challenge the Sage drug with an IV formulation — followed by an oral version — of ganaxolone for postpartum depression. But researchers say their Phase II study failed to positively differentiate itself from a placebo at 28 days — leaving them to hold up “clinically meaningful” data within the first day of administration compared to the control arm.

Roche cuts loose Tam­i­flu OTC rights, hand­ing Sanofi the keys as the phar­ma gi­ant dou­bles down on Xofluza

Roche set out to make a better flu medicine than Tamiflu as that franchise was headed to a generic showdown. Now they’ll see just how well Xofluza stacks up against the mainstay drug after handing off over-the-counter rights in the US to Sanofi.

Sanofi $SNY says it will now step in to negotiate a deal with the FDA to steer Tamiflu into the OTC market, a role that could well involve new studies to ease passage of the drug out of doctor’s hands and into the consumer end of the market. And the French pharma giant will have first dibs over “selected” OTC markets around the world as they push ahead.

Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.