Refuge Biotechnologies Raises $25 Million With Support from Chinese Investors

Pile of money

Chinese investment firms 3SBio and Sequoia China joined a team of other investors to bankroll California-based Refuge Biotechnologies, Inc.’s $25 million funding round to support its gene therapy treatments using CRISPR technology.

Based in the Bay Area, Refuge Biotechnologies said the funds will support the advancement of cell therapy programs that have been developed with Refuge's receptor-dCas platform. The in-house platform uses a mutated or dead Cas9 (dCas) as a targeting mechanism to enable precision CRISPR activation (CRISPRa) and CRISPR interference (CRISPRi). Cas9, which no longer cuts DNA but functions as a carrier to specific areas of the genome for highly targeted delivery a transcriptional activator or repressor to turn on or turn off genes. The company said its CRISPR product is designed to only activate CRISPRa/CRISPRi when they encounter specific sensors found on the surface of cancer cells. With that design, Refuge said the gene therapy platform will deliver the treatment effect only to target cells. Cell therapies have the potential to bring together multiple anti-cancer approaches in a single cell, such as repression of multiple checkpoint targets, with greater potency and reduced side effects, the company said. The company uses the CRISPR platform to turn off certain genes, such as PD-1, to generate more potent CAR-T immune cells.

"We have seen tremendous progress in the development of our technology and science, and believe that our receptor-dCas platform has the potential to create highly targeted cell therapies that bring superior efficacy while overcoming limitations related to toxic side effects," Bing C. Wang, co-founder and chief executive officer of Refuge Biotech, said in a statement.

Refuge’s pipeline is pipeline is led by RB-1916, a CAR-T cell therapy designed to inhibit the expression of the PD-1 gene, with a potential initial application in diffused large B-cell lymphoma. The company said it also has additional CAR cell therapy programs in its R&D pipeline that conditionally repress PD-1 and other checkpoint inhibitors for potential treatment of solid tumors.

Wang praised the financiers whose funds will help in the design of “innovative and intelligent cell therapies to fight cancer.” In addition to 3SBio and Sequoia China, other participants in the Series B round including investors Danhua Capital, Sangel Capital and Ocean Pine Healthcare Fund. Refuge's existing investors, 3E Bioventures, WuXi Healthcare Ventures, and ShangBay Capital.

Because of the lead financial support from 3SBio and Sequoia China, the investors have an exclusive right to negotiate with Refuge on the right to the development and commercialization of cell therapies using Refuge's platform in China. Refuge and 3SBio will also collaborate on research developing programmed cell therapeutics that can produce therapeutic proteins inside a patient's body using the California company’s platform technology.

The support 3SBio and Sequoia China have given to Refuge continues a growing trend of Chinese investments in U.S.-based pharma and biotech companies. During the first quarter of 2018, there has been more than $1.4 billion spent by Chinese investors into U.S. biotech firms, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of overall funds raised during the quarter.

In addition to the $25 million, Refuge also announced it appointed immuno-oncology pioneer Francesco Marincola as its new chief scientific officer. Marincola most recently served as a distinguished research fellow and strategist for immune-oncology discovery at AbbVie.

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