This start­up CEO swift­ly gained $260M and a dream team of biotech back­ers — on both sides of the Pa­cif­ic

Over the course of the past year, it’s be­come clear that cer­tain elite net­works of peo­ple in the broad­er biotech world are able to ac­com­plish big things al­most overnight. 

Zhi Hong, a long­time in­fec­tious dis­ease re­search ex­pert at Glax­o­SmithK­line, just found out for him­self how big.

Ge Li

Since the end of Feb­ru­ary, leav­ing GSK af­ter an 11-year stretch, he’s gained com­mit­ments of $260 mil­lion — it’s tranched — from some of the top biotech in­vestors on both sides of the Pa­cif­ic for a new com­pa­ny dubbed Brii Bio that plans to in-li­cense a pipeline of drugs out of the US. And he’s start­ing out with an ul­tra-con­nect­ed in­dus­try start­up in the US for a biotech part­ner. 

Bob Nelsen

In his cor­ner are Ge Li, who pre­sides over a glob­al sci­ence, man­u­fac­tur­ing and de­vel­op­ment em­pire from WuXi’s base in Shang­hai; Bob Nelsen, the tech­no­log­i­cal­ly no­madic biotech in­vestor at ARCH known for go­ing big on his splashiest new ven­tures; and Sean Tong, the in­sid­er and deal­mak­er at Boyu Cap­i­tal who has been mak­ing a splash of his own in the US. 

And that’s just the be­gin­ning. At this stage, Hong has more top-lev­el in­dus­try con­nec­tions than he has staffers. The in­sid­ers in­clude Al­ny­lam CEO John Maraganore — a long­time friend and as­so­ciate — and his ex-GSK col­league Mon­cef Slaoui on the sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry group. Leon Chen from 6 Di­men­sions is on the board, along with Neil Shen from Se­quoia Chi­na and David Yu from Yun­feng. Blue Pool al­so got in­volved in the start­up round.

“We had to turn some peo­ple away,” says Hong. And no won­der. “It’s not that I nec­es­sar­i­ly want all this mon­ey, but I don’t want to go out and raise more.”

Sean Tong

George Scan­gos, who left the helm at Bio­gen to launch his own in­fec­tious dis­ease re­search com­pa­ny on the West Coast, has come in to help with a li­cens­ing deal from his port­fo­lio of in­fec­tious dis­ease drugs at Vir — Hong’s spe­cial­ty.

While phar­ma gi­ants like No­var­tis are helmed by young CEOs de­ter­mined to use dig­i­tal and da­ta in­sights to guide their work and mar­ket­ing, Hong is start­ing out part­nered on that lev­el with Al­i­Health, the health­care arm of the Al­iba­ba Group. And he has the per­son­al en­dorse­ment of Al­i­Health chair­man Ed­die Wu.

George Scan­gos

WuXi is lend­ing its ex­per­tise in ge­nomics and R&D, and Brii plans to use its con­nec­tions to build a bridge be­tween the US and Chi­na, of­fer­ing an open­ing in­to a rapid­ly chang­ing health­care mar­ket where US biotechs have lit­tle or no chance of mak­ing a dent on their own. They could al­so open a two-lane high­way, tak­ing Chi­nese drugs in­to the world. 

That’s not an orig­i­nal idea. But with the reg­u­la­to­ry scene in a boom­ing Chi­na grow­ing warm and invit­ing, it’s a time­ly one.

Hong, though, tells me he isn’t in­ter­est­ed in any cheap and easy prod­uct pacts. He wants drugs that can make a dif­fer­ence in Chi­na, with a pub­lic com­mit­ment to greater af­ford­abil­i­ty. The phi­los­o­phy here is to up­date Chi­na’s drug mar­ket with cut­ting-edge ther­a­pies, mak­ing up for a gap in in­no­va­tion while ex­pand­ing ac­cess in Chi­na.

Brii is open­ing of­fices in Shang­hai, Bei­jing, San Fran­cis­co and Durham, North Car­oli­na, the last site a lega­cy of Hong’s long­time in­volve­ment with GSK, long af­ter the phar­ma gi­ant shut­tered most of its lo­cal re­search ops in the area. Now he’s re­cruit­ing on both sides of the Pa­cif­ic, and has yet to de­cide just how big they can be in a year.

Twen­ty staffers? 50? 100?

It de­pends on how quick­ly they can move now, lin­ing up deals.

Things are chang­ing, fast. The zeit­geist of a new biotech era now in­cludes the rapid­ly grow­ing in­flu­ence of Chi­nese en­tre­pre­neurs and in­vestors op­er­at­ing on the world scene.

Im­age: Zhi Hong. GSK via YOUTUBE

Sanofi brings in 4 new ex­ec­u­tives in con­tin­ued shake-up, as vac­cines and con­sumer health chief head out the door

In the middle of Sanofi’s multi-pronged race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, David Loew, the head of their sprawling vaccines unit, is leaving – part of the final flurry of moves in the French giant’ months-long corporate shuffle that will give them new-look leadership under new CEO Paul Hudson.

The company also said today that Alan Main, the head of their consumer healthcare unit, is out, and they named 4 executives to fill new or newly vacated positions, 3 of whom come from both outside both Sanofi and from Pharma.

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As­traZeneca trum­pets the 'mo­men­tous' da­ta they found for Tagris­so in an ad­ju­vant set­ting for NSCLC — but many of the ex­perts aren’t cheer­ing along

AstraZeneca is rolling out the big guns this evening to provide a salute to their ADAURA data on Tagrisso at ASCO.

Cancer R&D chief José Baselga calls the disease-free survival data for their drug in an adjuvant setting of early stage, epidermal growth factor receptor-mutated NSCLC patients following surgery “momentous.” Roy Herbst, the principal investigator out of Yale, calls it “transformative.”

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Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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Ab­b­Vie wins an ap­proval in uter­ine fi­broid-as­so­ci­at­ed heavy bleed­ing. Are ri­vals My­ovant and Ob­sE­va far be­hind?

Women expel on average about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood during their time of the month. But with uterine fibroids, heavy bleeding is typical — a third of a cup or more. Drugmakers have been working on oral therapies to try and stem the flow, and as expected, AbbVie and their partners at Neurocrine Biosciences are the first to make it across the finish line.

Known chemically as elagolix, the drug is already approved as a treatment for endometriosis under the brand name Orilissa. It targets the GnRH receptor to decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone.

Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead leas­es part­ner rights to TIG­IT, PD-1 in a $2B deal with Ar­cus. Now comes the hard part

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has brokered his way to a PD-1 and lined up a front row seat in the TIGIT arena, inking a deal worth close to $2 billion to align the big biotech closely with Terry Rosen’s Arcus. And $375 million of that comes upfront, with cash for the buy-in plus equity, along with $400 million for R&D and $1.22 billion in reserve to cover opt-in payments and milestones..

Hotly rumored for weeks, the 2 players have formalized a 10-year alliance that starts with rights to the PD-1, zimberelimab. O’Day also has first dibs on TIGIT and 2 other leading programs, agreeing to an opt-in fee ranging from $200 million to $275 million on each. There’s $500 million in potential TIGIT milestones on US regulatory events — likely capped by an approval — if Gilead partners on it and the stars align on the data. And there’s another $150 million opt-in payments for the rest of the Arcus pipeline.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

Backed by BAR­DA, Mer­ck jumps in­to Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er and adding an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck execs are making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19. And they have more BARDA cash backing them up on the move.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

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As­traZeneca’s $7B ADC suc­ceeds where Roche failed, im­prov­ing sur­vival in gas­tric can­cer

Another day, another win for Enhertu.

The antibody-drug conjugate AstraZeneca promised up-to $7 billion to partner on has had a quite a few months, beginning with splashy results in a Phase II breast cancer trial, a rapid approval and, earlier this month, breakthrough designations in both non-small cell lung cancer and gastric cancer.

Now, at ASCO, the British pharma and their Japanese partner, Daiichi Sankyo, have shown off the data that led to the gastric cancer designation, which they’ll take back to the FDA. In a pivotal, 187-person Phase II trial, Enhertu shrunk tumors in 42.9% of third-line patients with HER2-positive stomach cancer, compared with 12.5% in a control arm where doctors prescribed their choice of therapy. Progression-free survival was 5.4 months for Enhertu compared to 3.5 months for the control.

Once a gem, now just a rock, Take­da punts PhI­II IBD drug as ri­vals mus­cle ahead

Back in 2016, when then-Shire CEO Flemming Ørnskov picked up a promising clinical-stage IBD drug from Pfizer, the Boston-based biotech dubbed it SHP647 and moved it into the gem section of the pipeline, with rosy expectations of registration-worthy Phase III data ahead.

This was a drug that the EC wanted Takeda to commit to selling off before it gave their blessing to its acquisition of Shire, to settle some deep-seated concerns revolving around the potential market overlap with their blockbuster rival Entyvio. And Takeda, which took on a heavy debt load to buy Shire, clearly wanted the cash to pay down debt.