Brii Biosciences Launches with $260 Million, a Partnership with Vir Biotech, and Other Relationships with WuXi and Alibaba
Brii Biosciences is launching to accelerate the development and delivery of breakthrough drugs in China with $260 million in financial backing. The company is based in Shanghai, China and Durham, North Carolina. Initial funding was led by ARCH Venture Partners, 6 Dimensions Capital, Boyu Capital, Yunfeng Capital, Sequoia Capital, and Blue Pool Capital.
Founded in early 2018, Brii is launching with a partnership with Vir Biotechnology, with Brii having exclusive greater China rights for up to four Vir portfolio assets, and a digital and data partnership with AliHealth, the healthcare arm of Alibaba Group. This partnership is to collaborate on and explore disruptive approaches to optimize clinical and commercial development efforts.
“China faces significant medical needs in the prevention, treatment, and cure of serious infectious diseases, yet presents challenges for pharmaceutical innovation,” said George Scangos, Vir’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “Brii Bio combines a highly successful leadership team, clinical skills, and understanding of Chinese medical and cultural needs. We are happy to be their partner in accelerating the development of medicines for infectious diseases, not only in China, but globally.”
The company’s co-founder, president and chief executive officer is Zhi Hong, who spent 11 years at GlaxoSmithKline, leading the company’s infectious disease research. He was based at GSK’s site in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, but regularly traveled to China. He was instrumental in forming and then leading the GSK Institute for Infectious Diseases and Public Health. He was also a director of Viiv Healthcare, a joint venture between GSK and Pfizer that focuses on HIV.
Frank Vinluan, with Xconomy, writes, “Hong says many biotech startups targeting China focus on taking a single drug through clinical trials. While that approach has worked, it takes a lot of time. The strategy also does not factor in the challenges of making a drug commercially successful in China. In forming Brii, Hong says he wants the ability to move more quickly than traditional biotech startups. Brii already has a partnership that could provide a fast start.”
That’s with Vir. But Hong indicates Brii is looking for more partnerships like the one with Vir, particularly for clinical-stage compounds with enough work conducted to show feasibility, or early-stage compounds close to the clinic. What he’s not interested in doing is buying cast-offs, a strategy touted by Vivek Ramaswamy and his Roivant Sciences and numerous “vant” companies.
“WuXi’s mission has always been to build a technology and capability platform to enable anyone and any company to discover, develop and manufacture healthcare products to benefit patients,” said Ge Li, WuXi AppTec Group’s chairman, in a statement. “I share Brii Bio’s mission to improve public health in China, and many of the leadership team members had already delivered some of the biggest medicines in our industry. I look forward to supporting them.”
The leadership team includes Zhi Hong, formerly senior vice president and head of the Infectious Disease Therapy Area Unit at GSK; Li Yan, chief medical officer, previously held senior roles at GSK and Merck; Lianhong Xu, senior vice president and head of Medicinal Chemistry, who co-invented blockbuster antiviral drugs at Gilead Sciences; Jean-Luc Giardet, senior vice president and head of Pharmaceutical Sciences, who discovered and launched gout drugs at Ardea Biosciences, an AstraZeneca company; Qing Zhu, vice president and head of Biopharmaceutical Research, previously withMedImmune; Lisa Beck, vice president of Business Development, most recently with Alexion Pharmaceuticals; and James Klein, interim chief financial officer, who has been chief financial officer of several companies, including Triangle Pharmaceuticals.