Lilly Asia Ventures leads AstraZeneca spinout's $100M push into China's growing R&D hub in Wuxi
Three years after launching with three preclinical assets from AstraZeneca’s R&D center in Shanghai and $132.5 million in cash, Dizal Pharma has drawn marquee new investors in for a $100 million reload.
Under CEO Xiaolin Zhang, the team — most of whom transitioned from AstraZeneca’s (now-defunct) Innovation Center China — has shepherded the lead asset into the clinic for non-small cell lung cancer and an unnamed autoimmune disease. INDs for a second cancer drug are in and three others are on close on its heels, with a final chronic kidney disease drug partnered with AstraZeneca tugged at the bottom of the pipeline.
Now Dizal is ready to move away from Shanghai and plant its roots in Wuxi, where a new biopharma hub is shaping up in the high-tech district.
Lilly Asia Ventures is leading the investment into the new headquarters, with participation from Sequoia Capital, Trinity and Wuxi NewForce Fund. The cash will fund the buildout of everything from R&D and operations to production and sales/distribution.
Back in 2017, AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot celebrated Dizal as a “ground-breaking joint venture” that combines the pharma giant’s discovery muscles with the resources and network of the private equity firm SDIC Fund.
For the next two years the company’s priority in China appeared to be on healthcare management through its China Commercial Innovation Center, which was established in Wuxi earlier in 2017.
Yet as regulatory reforms swept up barriers for the whole industry and homegrown biotech fledglings began springing up with global ambitions, it didn’t take long for AstraZeneca to dive back into the new R&D wave.
Just last year, it booted up a new global R&D center in Shanghai and added an AI innovation group, doubling its headcount in the city to around 1,000.
Then there was the $1 billion Healthcare Industrial Fund it created with a leading Chinese investment bank, dedicated to domestic companies and partners — including those based in the biopark it built together with the municipal government of Wuxi, dubbed I-Campus.
Dizal’s move to Wuxi effectively makes it a neighbor of I-Campus — and its startup residents.
While it started out with a focus on oncology, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, the biotech now lists lung cancer, chronic kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease and anti-virus as its main focus. Tracking closely with AstraZeneca’s R&D interests, Dizal’s lead drug is a JAK1 inhibitor and the second most advanced asset blocks EGFR.