China, Startups, Venture

Sound familiar? China/US biotech hybrid lands rights to cancer drugs, cash and a team of development vets to launch Oncologie

Looking for a new and suddenly popular business model?

Laura Benjamin (LILLYPAD)

Another transpacific biotech has launched with the backing of an emerging group of venture investors in China as well as a plan to build a pipeline of cancer drugs that can be swiftly developed for the booming Asian market. Not surprisingly, they’re getting started by focusing on drug combinations using red-hot checkpoint therapies to amp up responses for targeted therapies.

Oncologie is following a popular — and still highly risky — strategy, putting together a group of experienced, credible US investigators as they build a team based in Boston as well as Shanghai, one of the busiest biotech hubs in China. 

Hagop Youssouffian

The company was founded and led by experienced development vet Laura Benjamin, who taught at Harvard Med and then worked at ImClone/Eli Lilly on cancer. Hagop Youssouffian, the ex-CMO at ImClone/Lilly, is the acting chief medical officer at the company. 

Oncologie got serious about building the business near the beginning of this year, in-licensing bavituximab from Avid Bioservices as well as the late-stage drug lefitolimod from the German biotech Mologen. Some students of the oncology market may recall that the late-stage failure of bavituximab torpedoed Peregrine’s stock a couple of years ago. The biotech later changed its name to Avid Bioservices. Mologen, meanwhile, gave up its regional rights to lefitolimod for 5 million euros in cash along with a set of milestones.

The new China/US upstart is being bankrolled by some of the new players in China who have jumped onto the world stage over the past year. Pivotal bioVenture Partners China Fund, Nan Fung Life Sciences, China Merchant Bank Investments and Volcanics Ventures put together a $16.5 million round for the team.

“Oncologie is leveraging the opportunity to run clinical trials in both the US and China to develop drugs for the global market,” said Jimmy Wei, managing partner of the Pivotal bioVenture Partners China Fund, which just launched a new fund. “We think these coordinated efforts will shorten the time between launching innovative drugs in the US and China. Since there are too many undifferentiated PD-1/PD-L1 programs in China with very few combination trials ongoing, Oncologie has positioned itself as the leader in immune combination therapies.”


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