Vivo Capital, Bain, Primavera pour $200M into virtually unknown targeted oncology play out of China
Hongbo Lu was a board member at CrownBio, a preclinical oncology CRO, when a local company — so local it didn’t even have an English name — licensed a c-Met inhibitor from them. Then they didn’t think much about it.
Over the next eight years though, Lu, a partner at Vivo Capital, watched the biotech bootstrap itself, building a whole pipeline and discovery capabilities around the anchoring asset.
Impressed by what they saw, Vivo Capital has now teamed up with Bain Capital and Primavera to infuse $200 million into the company — which actually has been operating under two separate entities managed by the same team. The Series A will buy out the angel investors who have been funding the work, and put all the programs under the same umbrella.
They’re calling it Avistone Pharmaceuticals.
“Vivo invests in healthcare globally,” Lu said in an interview with Endpoints News. “As we look at the landscape in China, we see tremendous investment opportunities in innovation, but more complex private equity deals have emerged as well. Avistone actually is the perfect combination of both in our view.”
The size of the round is large by any regard, but Avistone is special in another way: Unlike many of the flashy upstarts that boast of founders and executives with global experience working with multinationals, the résumés of Avistone execs — all the way down from CEO Hepeng Shi — are full of positions at local Chinese pharma companies.
“This management team is very low key. We see tremendous value in their execution capability,” Lu said. “We think their local execution in China is one of the best.”
With a pitch centered around targeted oncology therapies, those skills could be especially important in terms of speeding up the time to approval, noted Bain life sciences managing director Ricky Sun. Avistone has “compelling clinical data” to show for its tyrosine kinase inhibitors, added Jiaqi Zheng, managing director of Primavera Capital.
The c-Met drug remains in the lead, and it’s in late-stage trials for genetically-defined populations of non-small cell lung cancer and glioblastoma. China’s NMPA has granted it breakthrough therapy designation.
What the investors are hoping to achieve is to add a global touch — elevating it to the international stage and bringing in potential partners when the time is ripe. And they believe the company has what it takes it stand out, even if it’s mostly staying behind a veil right now.
“The management team has been very persistent in their pursuit of developing cancer drugs,” Lu said. “Dr. Shi has such grit to work on this effort for close to 10 years, and that’s a reflection of commitment.”