Shoot­ing straight for Ven­clex­ta, a sea­soned Chi­nese CEO has glob­al dreams for his start­up

As one of the found­ing ex­ecs and long­time chief med­ical of­fi­cer at Bet­ta Phar­ma, Fen­lai Tan isn’t just well aware of the al­lure of a me-bet­ter strat­e­gy in Chi­na. He helped cre­ate it.

Fen­lai Tan

Over the past 11 years, the biotech — which took its name for the vo­cal re­sem­blance to “bet­ter” — had ac­crued a whop­ping $9.2 bil­lion val­u­a­tion (RMB$60 bil­lion) thanks to a sin­gle drug: ico­tinib, a first-gen­er­a­tion EGFR in­hibitor that be­came Chi­na’s first ap­proved tar­get­ed ther­a­py af­ter prov­ing just as ef­fec­tive as As­traZeneca’s Ires­sa in a head-to-head tri­al, and safer for Chi­nese pa­tients.

Tan’s new am­bi­tions, though, go even fur­ther.

Now in the CEO seat, he’s land­ed $35 mil­lion in a pre-B round for Guangzhou Lu­peng Phar­ma, the start­up he co-found­ed with Yi Chen. In­stead of first-in-Chi­na, they will be gun­ning for glob­al pre­mier sta­tus with a slate of small mol­e­cule drugs that they be­lieve would be at­trac­tive even in the eyes of multi­na­tion­al drug­mak­ers.

Lu­peng is among a new gen­er­a­tion of star­tups ea­ger to do more than be­com­ing a bridge for West­ern drugs in­to Chi­na or fast fol­low­er — both strate­gies that have been suc­cess­ful­ly adopt­ed but, some would ar­gue, might be over­heat­ed.

“A lot of times it prob­a­bly is not me-bet­ter, it’s me-worse prob­a­bly,” Tan told End­points News. “If you look at like PD-1, there’s like 180-some­thing — over 70-some­thing PD-1s al­ready went to the clin­i­cal stage. How come? It’s not pos­si­ble, you know, we’ll have 70 of this kind of PD-1 in­hibitors on the mar­ket.”

Mean­while more es­tab­lished play­ers, from Jun­shi to I-Mab to Tan’s old col­leagues at Ja­co­bio, have shown it’s pos­si­ble for home­grown drugs to shine on the in­ter­na­tion­al stage, with their re­spec­tive deals for Covid-19 and CD47 an­ti­bod­ies.

For Lu­peng, the pitch right now is cen­tered around a lead drug tar­get­ing BCL-2, which is be­ing test­ed in pa­tients in Chi­na, the US, the UK and Spain. Tan sees the drug as a “re­al com­peti­tor” to Ab­b­Vie and Roche’s Ven­clex­ta, which was the first and re­mains the on­ly BCL-2 in­hibitor on the mar­ket.

Chen, a med­i­c­i­nal chemist by train­ing who’s based in San Fran­cis­co, is lead­ing the dis­cov­ery ef­fort while Tan brings the clin­i­cal ex­per­tise to co­or­di­nate glob­al tri­als. Lu­peng now em­ploys 62 staffers, in­clud­ing a hand­ful ex­e­cut­ing on clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment in the US.

Two more blood can­cer drugs are in the clin­ic, and he ex­pects two more pro­grams — one for he­pati­tis B and one for mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis — to fol­low suit soon.

Sin­ga­pore’s Temasek led the round, which is like­ly to be the sec­ond to last be­fore an IPO. Lake Bleu Cap­i­tal, Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures and Fontus Cap­i­tal al­so in­vest­ed.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ex­elix­is pulls a sur­prise win in thy­roid can­cer just days ahead of fi­nal Cabome­tyx read­out

Exelixis added a thyroid cancer indication to its super-seller Cabometyx’s label on Friday — months before the FDA was expected to make a decision, and days before the company was set to unveil the final data at #ESMO21.

At a median follow-up of 10.1 months, differentiated thyroid cancer patients treated with Cabometyx (cabozantinib) lived a median of 11 months without their disease worsening, compared to just 1.9 months for patients given a placebo, Exelixis said on Monday.

Den­mark's Gubra to col­lab­o­rate with Bay­er on pep­tides; Sam­sung and Bio­gen re­ceive FDA ap­proval for Lu­cen­tis biosim­i­lar

Danish biotech Gubra announced a research collaboration and license agreement with Bayer to develop peptide therapeutics to treat cardiorenal diseases. The collaboration will utilize Gubra’s peptide drug discovery platform to identify potential candidates.

This is not the first time Gubra has partnered with a company on peptide therapeutics — they partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim back in 2017 to create peptide therapeutics to treat obesity.

Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.