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

John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

Dave Barrett, Brian Chee, Amir Nashat, Amy Schulman. Polaris

Bob Langer's first port of call — Po­laris Part­ners — maps $400M for ninth fund

Health and tech ven­ture group Po­laris Part­ners, which counts Alec­tor, Al­ny­lam and Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine as part of its port­fo­lio, is set­ting up its ninth fund, rough­ly two years af­ter it closed Po­laris VI­II with $435 mil­lion in the bank, sur­pass­ing its tar­get by $35 mil­lion.

The Boston-based firm, in an SEC fil­ing, said it in­tends to raise $400 mil­lion for the fund. Po­laris — which rou­tine­ly backs com­pa­nies mold­ed out of the work done in the lab of pro­lif­ic sci­en­tist Bob Langer of MIT  — typ­i­cal­ly in­vests ear­ly, and sticks around till com­pa­nies are in the green. Like its peers at Flag­ship and Third Rock, Po­laris is all about cham­pi­oning the lo­cal biotech scene with a steady flow of start­up cash.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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Right back at you, Pfiz­er: BeiGene and a Pfiz­er spin­out launch a new­co to de­vel­op a MEK/BRAF in­hibitor that could ri­val $11.4B com­bo

A day af­ter Pfiz­er bought Ar­ray and its ap­proved can­cer com­bo, BeiGene and Pfiz­er spin­out Spring­Works have part­nered in launch­ing a new biotech that has an eye on the very same mar­ket the phar­ma gi­ant just paid bil­lions for. And they’re plan­ning on us­ing an ex-Pfiz­er drug to do it.

In a nut­shell, Chi­na’s BeiGene is toss­ing in a pre­clin­i­cal BRAF in­hibitor — BGB-3245, which cov­ers both V600 and non-V600 BRAF mu­ta­tions — for a big stake in a new, joint­ly con­trolled biotech called Map­Kure with Bain-backed Spring­Works.

Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.

Sanofi aligns it­self with Google to stream­line drug de­vel­op­ment

Tech­nol­o­gy is bleed­ing in­to health­care, and big phar­ma is rid­ing the wave. Sanofi $SNY ap­point­ed its first chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer this Feb­ru­ary, fol­low­ing the foot­steps of its peers. By May, the French drug­mak­er and some of its big phar­ma com­pa­tri­ots joined forces with Google par­ent Al­pha­bet’s Ver­i­ly unit to aug­ment clin­i­cal tri­al re­search. On Tues­day, the Parisian com­pa­ny tied up with Google to ac­cess its cloud com­put­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech to spur the de­vel­op­ment of new ther­a­pies.

Af­ter watch­ing its share price soar on a Bloomberg re­port and heat­ed ru­mors, Bio­haven stock takes a bil­lion-dol­lar bath

Back in April, Biohaven Pharmaceutical became one hot biotech stock $BHVN based on a report in Bloomberg that some “potential bidders” had been kicking the tires at the biotech, which has a lead drug for migraines. Then the rumor mill really started to smoke when execs canceled a presentation at an investor conference a little more than a week ago.

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UP­DAT­ED: Roche fields first ap­proval for Ro­z­lytrek in the run-up to a show­down with Bay­er, Pfiz­er

While it’s wait­ing to hear back from FDA reg­u­la­tors, Roche is be­gin­ning the vic­to­ry lap for en­trec­tinib in Japan.

Roche is giv­ing Bay­er a run for their mon­ey with this tu­mor-ag­nos­tic drug, which tar­gets NTRK gene fu­sions. Now dubbed Ro­z­lytrek, it’s sanc­tioned to treat adult and pe­di­atric pa­tients in Japan with neu­rotroph­ic ty­ro­sine re­cep­tor ki­nase fu­sion-pos­i­tive, ad­vanced re­cur­rent sol­id tu­mors.