With ops spanning Belgium and China, Full-Life inks $245M buyout to beef up radiopharma pipeline
From the day they incorporated Full-Life Technologies just over a year ago, Lanny Sun and his co-founders knew they wanted to in-license and acquire promising radiopharmaceutical programs that would fit right into the supply chain and logistics network they’re building.
They’ve now found the target. Full-Life has put together a $245 million deal to buy out Focus-X Therapeutics, a tiny startup working out of New Jersey.
As Sun told it, the main draw of the deal is a pair of lead programs that Focus-X brings to the table: a peptide targeting PSMA (prostate specific membrane antigen) for metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer; and another hitting NTSR-1 (neurotensin receptor type 1) for pancreatic cancer.
“We’ve got a great business development team” led by CFO Julie Wu, he added, “and their entire job is to ensure that we meet with low-profile people who are doing great science.”
While both programs from Focus-X are still preclinical, just like the rest of Full-Life’s pipeline, they are relatively more advanced. Working with investigators in China, Focus-X has an imaging study for the PSMA program underway in China.
Sun expects to start clinical trials for those candidates in 2023, with six more programs to come from Focus-X.
The venture investor and biotech entrepreneur said he became interested in radiopharmaceuticals as he watched the ascent of companies like Advanced Accelerator Applications and Endocyte. The idea of using nuclear power — guided specifically to tumors by binders that hit cancer-specific proteins — is “refreshing.” And the clinical data have been “game changing.”
“I love the simplicity of the modality,” he said.
Gordian Ventures, where he’s a partner and chief investment officer, helped launch the company and Chengwei Capital provided the $10 million seed round. Sequoia China and a slate of other Chinese investors infused $37 million more earlier this year.
After bringing industry veteran Hong-hoi Ting and Nicholas Wong on board as co-founders, Sun rounded out the team with Wu as CFO and Philippe van Put as general manager in Europe. CSO Ravi Chari is an expert in antibody-drug conjugates, a space that Sun believes that radiopharmaceuticals can one day draw parallels to.
High-profile investments from Novartis, Bayer and a number of VC shops that have backed other startups clearly share the excitement. The biggest pain point, according to Sun, lies in supply and logistics, which is particularly challenging with something with such a short shelf life.
Depending on which source you consult, he noted, the current supply-demand ratio for radioisotopes is somewhere between one to 50 or one to 100. And even when a drugmaker secures the supply, it must efficiently get the actinium to a clinical site — and one day, commercial sites — within 9.9 days, which is the half-life of actinium.
“So just constant operational burden, right, or operational needs of purchase and supply, and purchase and supply. As you can imagine, once you get to Phase II, Phase III or commercial, I mean, you’re looking at hopefully, hundreds of sites that you’re doing this every six to 10 days,” he said.
Full-Life is headquartered in Shanghai, where the crew handles research as well as administrative, finance and business development functions. But the plan is to produce radioisotopes and make radioligand therapies out of them in Belgium, where it currently has around 15 full-timers, and is building a production and logistics center there.
“If you look at radioisotope production, I mean, Belgium is really a powerhouse,” Sun said, pointing to the congregation of multiple top producers and a whole ecosystem of early-stage discovery and clinical translation.
The goal is to be making actinium in-house around 2024 to 2025, even if Full-Life will maintain some relationship with vendors, especially when it comes to other types of radioisotopes.