Chinese biotech bags $50M+ for I/O, autoimmune work, starting with ALK5 inhibitor
March 1 , 2020
March 9, 2020 10:48 AM EDT  Amber Tong

For the last decade or so, many of the more eye-catching Chinese biotech startups share two defining attributes: seasoned execs trained at multinational biopharma companies and a mission to bridge the gap between Western medical breakthroughs and Chinese patients.

In recent years, a new generation has emerged building on that, with leaders who have now tested the waters at the pioneering companies and expressed ambitions to not just be first in China, but to beat global rivals to a historic approval.

GenFleet Therapeutics, a perfect encapsulation of this new breed, has just closed more than $50 million (close to RMB400 million) in Series B cash to bring its pipeline of immuno-oncology and autoimmune therapies forward.

Qiang Lu and Jiong Lan started the company after stints at CStone and Yangtze River Pharmaceuticals, respectively, with an idea to chase after experimental targets still being pursued and validated. They soon recruited Biao Zheng from J&J as CSO.

The first target they zeroed in on is ALK5, a kinase that plays a role in TGF-β signaling — which has in turn attracted attention as a tumor promoter.

Eli Lilly has a similar drug in Phase II dubbed galunisertib until Josh Bilenker’s new team at Lilly Oncology purged it in a pipeline cleanup. But Pfizer, South Korea’s MedPacto and several other Chinese startups are still doing early-stage work on the mechanism.

GenFleet said proceeds from the new financing will help advance the lead drug, known as GFH018, in solid tumor indications including hepatocellular carcinoma. The drug has just entered the clinic in China, with other INDs to follow later this year.

Lu added that GenFleet has also begun construction of a process development and manufacturing facility in Shaoxing, Zhejiang.

CDH Investments and Shenzhen Capital Group co-led the round, with participation from South China Venture Capital and Panlin Capital. Existing investors — including Sinopharm Capital (the venture arm of the drugmaker), Lake Bleu Capital and HighLight Capital — also came back for more.

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