Nan Fung Life Sciences antes up $32M to fuel a neuro play as the Hong Kong conglomerate burns through $1.5B mandate
Having relied heavily on its Pivotal bioVentures Partners arm to make direct investments in biotech, Nan Fung Life Sciences is taking an increasingly prominent seat at the table, putting up $32 million as the sole investor in a neuroscience startup’s launch round.
With the Series A Engrail Therapeutics is also taking the covers off its business model, which involves finding, buying and then developing drugs for brain disorders.
It’s a tough field, but neuroscience is making “massive strides,” CEO Vikram Sudarsan said in a statement.
“As the brain’s complexities and molecular mechanisms have become clearer, we are better able to identify disease targets, which has also supported a resurgence in funding neuroscience drug development,” he said.
The assets they want would have validated mechanisms, hitting well-known targets tied to burdensome symptoms. ENX-101, a subtype selective GABA A modulator, is the first example; the preclinical molecule promises to circumvent the side effects and risk of drug dependence that plague the benzodiazepine class.
“Our goal is to build a pipeline of at least five compounds over the next few years,” Sudarsan told Endpoints News. “Our flexible transaction model includes licensing, co-developing, equity infusion with option to license and company acquisitions. This flexibility allows us to acquire the most promising products. We will continue to evaluate if, how, when and with whom we partner our assets.”
But perhaps as important as the compounds is the expertise its team takes to clinical development, regulatory considerations, IP building and even commercial positioning. While Sudarsan brings an eye to good deals from six years leading Cipla New Ventures — which overlapped with a short stint as CEO of the Indian pharma’s US arm — co-founder Stephen Cunningham cut his teeth at Zeneca both before and after it merged with Astra. Then for 13 years, Cunningham spearheaded medical affairs for Novartis.
Anil Vootkur, an alum of Takeda and Allergan, is VP of corporate development while biotech Eve Taylor is VP of clinical development.
With $1.5 billion to spend on life science companies, Nan Fung Life Sciences has bet on neurosciences before, when Pivotal bioVentures Partners backed Karuna’s Series B. Peter Bisgaard, who’s managing both sides of the investing business, is chairing Engrail’s board.
“Engrail’s dynamic model for advancing drugs aimed at treating life-limiting diseases of the nervous system is exactly the innovation this complex field requires,” he said in a statement.