Kite partner HiFiBiO closes $67M round for preclinical antibody candidates churned out of single-cell analytics platform
A fledgling biotech with operations spanning (the American) Cambridge, Paris and Shanghai has just bagged $67 million to bring its pipeline of cancer and autoimmune disease-fighting antibodies into the clinic.
Despite its relatively low profile, HiFiBiO boasts of partnerships with well-known players, from pilot projects with Pfizer and J&J in its early days to more recent collaborations with Takeda and Gilead’s Kite subsidiary.
While the five professors who launched the company in 2013 — David Weitz, Robert Nicol and Bradley Bernstein at Harvard plus Andrew Griffiths and Jérôme Bibette in France — had designed their foundational, “ultra-highthroughput” single-cell screening tech platform around B cell antibodies, it can actually be applied broadly to mine the immune repertoire from patient samples, picking out biomarkers and stratifying patients quickly but comprehensively, CEO Liang Schweizer said in an interview. That includes sniffing out antigen and neoantigen TCRs — the precise application that CAR-T pioneer Kite was hooked on. And there are other undisclosed pacts, too.
The Series C, though, will be dedicated to its internal pipeline. HiFiBiO currently has 10 candidates in its pipeline and expects to advance multiple drug candidates to the clinical trial phase. But since they are treading on first-in-class waters, Schweizer prefers to stay mum about the precise pathways and diseases they are targeting.
In general, their immune-modulating programs would center around regulatory T cells and myeloid-derived suppressor cells, according to the company website.
Schweizer, who’s doubling as CSO, joined the company around 2017 as the scientific founders were looking for someone to shape the company up for drug development. Having lead Asian cancer research for Sanofi and later co-founded the platform startup Harbour Biomed, Schweizer was brought in alongside longtime colleague Jeff He, now HiFiBiO’s COO.
The founders had long kept China in mind as both a big market and a source of innovation, she added.
“To make a business successful, you position yourself openly,” said Schweizer, who’s based in the US but travels regularly to the other two sites.
Kite jumped into the financing alongside a group of China-focused investors led by IDG Capital. The rest includes Sequoia Capital China, Delian Capital, Hanne Capital, VI Ventures, Legend Star Capital and LYFE Capital, many of whom also participated in the $37.5 million Series B in May 2018.
Tiger Hu of IDG — a large generalist VC that lists healthcare as a focus — is joining the board of directors.
In addition to building up the clinical and regulatory team, HiFiBiO has also signed contracts with top clinicians to obtain patient samples that will enable its ongoing translational research effort. The team, now at roughly 70, is growing by the week, Schweizer said.