5:00 AM
 | 
Dec 06, 2018
 |  BC Extra  |  Company News

Brii expands in infectious via deals with Vir, VBI, WuXi Biologics

Brii Biosciences (Shanghai, China) is broadening its pipeline in HBV and other infectious diseases through a series of new and expanded deals announced Thursday, even as CEO Zhi Hong said the company is looking to expand into another therapeutic area.

Brii launched in May with $260 million and three initial partnerships to bring infectious diseases to the forefront of innovation in China: one with the AliHealth healthcare arm of the Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE:BABA), another with infectious disease start-up Vir Biotechnology Inc. (San Francisco, Calif.), and a memorandum of understanding with Chinese CROs Wuxi AppTec Co. Ltd. (Shanghai:603259) and WuXi Biologics Inc. (HKSE:2269) (see "Partnering on a Mission").

On Thursday, Brii licensed greater China rights to HBV candidate VBI-2601 from VBI Vaccines Inc. (NASDAQ:VBIV) for $11 million, comprising a $4 million upfront payment and a $7 million equity investment. VBI is eligible for $117.5 million in milestones and double-digit royalties.

Brii plans to start clinical proof of concept studies of VBI-2601 in China next year, where HBV is a large unmet need.

Also on Thursday, Brii and Vir announced they plan to start clinical trials of HBV candidate VIR-2218 next year and have begun working with Chinese regulatory authorities to gain necessary authorizations. VIR-2218 is one of four assets from Vir's infectious disease portfolio to which Brii has an option under the partners' May deal. Brii can exercise its option for the compounds at proof of concept.

Vir started a New Zealand Phase I/II trial of the VIR-2218 last month (see "As Vir Enters the Clinic, Scangos Sees Future of HBV in Combos").

Hong said Brii will first test the HBV candidates separately and then will most likely evaluate them as a combination.

"With VIR-2218, we can kick start immune control, and with VBI-2601, then we can induce a broader immune response and sustain immune control," Hong said. "That's how we think these two opportunities can work together."

VIR-2218 is RNAi therapeutic targeting the HBV genome using Enhanced Stabilization Chemistry (ESC)-GalNAc-conjugate delivery technology; VBI-2601 is a recombinant, protein-based HBV therapy targeting B and T cell immunity.

Additionally, Brii and WuXi Biologics entered a deal Thursday granting Brii access to WuXi Biologics’ end-to-end biopharmaceutical technology platforms and capabilities to discover, develop and manufacture bispecific antibodies to treat infectious diseases. Brii will have exclusive rights to resulting biologics. The company also said it partnered with Tsinghua University to develop novel models and assays in which to test the bispecifics. Hong said Brii will fund research under both deals.

Hong said Brii has selected an undisclosed target that it believes can generate novel therapeutics on par with those seen in oncology in recent years. "We think it's time for infectious disease to get to the level of immune therapeutics, and we believe this target will give us that opportunity."

Hong also told BioCentury that the company wants to expand beyond infectious diseases and is looking at several opportunities that address an unmet need in China. The additional disease focus probably won't be in cancer, as Hong said the space is crowded and has a large downstream risk.

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