With Eli Lilly's backing, a team of Seagen veterans with ADC chops is looking to crash the Chinese oncology party
With an industrywide pipeline quickly gathering steam, the Chinese oncology market has become a red-hot market for Western investors as well as Big Pharma partners looking for the next big thing. One way to get there is to get in early, and now Eli Lilly’s Asian investment arm is staking its claim with a team of Seagen veterans.
ProfoundBio, a Suzhou, China, and Washington State-based oncology player, has raised a $55 million Series A with backing from lead investors Lilly Asia Ventures and LYFE Capital to advance its antibody-drug conjugate and immuno-oncology platform into clinical development, the company said Tuesday.
The proceeds will be dedicated to advancing the company’s discovery pipeline into human trials, potentially within the year, propping up a new Chinese oncology player amid a blossoming field for R&D.
“We made significant progress with our lead programs and novel technology platforms since the completion of Series Pre-A financing,” Profound CEO Baiteng Zhao said in a statement. “The additional funding will allow us to further strengthen and expand our integrated R&D capability, grow and broaden our innovative product pipeline, and prepare for multiple IND submissions in 2022 and beyond.”
For Lilly’s Asian venture arm, Profound represents an opportunity to dive into a corner of the market where drugmakers like Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo have found success. Third-gen ADCs and beyond have received a ton of interest from Big Pharma as researchers have found new ways to administer the therapies without the deleterious side effects endemic to the field. Daiichi’s multibillion-dollar collaboration with British drugmaker AstraZeneca is an obvious road sign for the field writ large.
Meanwhile, Profound’s leadership team, chock full of Seagen vets, gave its newest round of investors hope the drugmaker could have the R&D chops. Zhao, COO Tae Han and CTO Xiao Shang all previously worked at Seagen and helped develop the biotech’s two approved ADCs, Adcetris and Padcev, the latter a collaboration drug with Japanese firm Astellas.
“ProfoundBio’s founding team are industry veterans with rich experience, deep know-how and a FDA drug approval track record established during their tenure at the global leader of ADC drug development,” Lilly Asia Ventures managing partner Fei Chen said in a statement.
If that experience does come to bear, it would set ProfoundBio up as a serious oncology player amid a renaissance for the Chinese market, which has emerged as a major focus area for Western investors and Big Pharma partners given the speed of growth in the space.
Drugmakers like BeiGene, Zai Lab and Junshi Biosciences have all earned interest from the West after the former’s BTK inhibitor Brukinsa broke the mold as the first Chinese-developed oncology drug to receive an FDA approval back in late 2019. Many of those players are looking to break into the US, the single largest drug market on Earth, but R&D has also taken a distinctly local flavor as China’s NMPA has brought its oncology trial standards up to snuff and drugmakers look to corner East Asian patients.
Junshi and Coherus, for instance, are advancing their own PD-1 drug for nasopharyngeal cancer, a disease that predominantly affects patients in East Asia, to a US filing. If it earns an eventual approval, it would mark a milestone for Chinese drugmakers: the first FDA drug approved based solely on pivotal data from Chinese trials.
Profound’s Series A round was also joined by Sequoia Capital China and Oriza as well as existing investors K2VC, Gaorong Capital, and Chang’an Capital.