Samantha Du's Quan Capital, Lilly Asia back China's first big kidney play
It’s been a good couple years for kidney biotechs. Once a barren field, it has since been filled with new companies from blue-chip VC firms such as Arch, Versant and Third Rock. Now some top-flight Chinese investors are getting in on the action.
Shanghai-based Alebund Pharmaceuticals announced Monday that they raised a $60 million Series B led by Quan Capital, the VC firm from Zai Lab co-founder and CEO Samantha Du. Quan joined Lilly Asia Ventures, which incubated the company beginning in 2018, among the new company’s most prominent backers.
Details surrounding Alebund are sparse, but they said in a release that they are going after the gamut of renal conditions, from the ultra-ubiquitous chronic kidney disease to the rare inflammatory disease IgA nephropathy. The company claims they are the first in China focused exclusively on developing novel renal drugs and that their Series B was the largest ever for a nephrology-focused Chinese company.
They are led by Gavin Xia, who has been a venture partner at Lilly Asia Ventures since 2018. He serves on the board of two other Lilly-backed startups, the cancer testing company Singlera Genomics and the cancer therapeutics company Abbisko.
Although the company has not divulged most of its drug candidates, their lead program is already in Phase II for hyperphosphatemia, a condition where dangerous levels of phosphate build up in the blood because a patient’s kidney isn’t filtering the mineral properly. According to a clinicaltrials.gov registry, they are trying to tackle the disease with VS-505, a molecule originally developed by the small South Dakota-based biotech Vidasym.
According to a 2016 paper in the British Journal of Pharmacology, VS-505 is derived from acacia tree sap and designed to bind to phosphate in the blood with minimal side effects. Jin Tian, who leads clinical studies at Vidasym, is also co-founder and CMO of Alebund. Alebund hopes to launch a pivotal Phase III study next year.
Alebund said they will also use the funds to help build their manufacturing site.
The company argued in the release that their work was particularly important now, as chronic kidney disease has risen worldwide. They cited epidemiological data that suggest as many 120 million people in China are living with CKD, the vast majority of them undiagnosed.