3:31 PM
 | 
Dec 06, 2018
 |  BC Extra  |  Financial News

After Ally Bridge-backed series A, Shanghai's GenFleet looks to clinic

With eight preclinical candidates and an experienced management team, immunology company GenFleet Therapeutics Co. Ltd. (Shanghai, China) raised RMB120 million ($17.4 million) in an untranched series A round to bring its first therapy into clinic next year.

Ally Bridge Group led the round, which saw participation from Sinopharm Capital and CSPC, and existing investors HighLight Capital, Qian Long Yu Han and TF Capital.

GenFleet's most advanced compound, GFH018, is a small molecule inhibitor of transforming growth factor β receptor 1 (TGFβR1; ALK5). The therapy is being developed for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and other "China-prevalent" cancers, co-founder and Chairman Qiang Lu told BioCentury. A first-in-human trial is expected to start in mid-2019.

GenFleet's seven other undisclosed programs are in preclinical development for cancer or autoimmune disease.

While Lu said GenFleet's eight programs will not yield "first-in-class therapies per se," they are higher risk and, according to Lu, no therapy against the targets have reached clinical proof of concept elsewhere. "We’re not pursuing another IDO and EGFR," Lu added.

GenFleet's executive team brings with it a history of drug discovery in China. Lu and GenFleet co-founder and CEO Jiong Lan built the new drug discovery team at Yangtze River Pharmaceutical Group Co. Ltd. (Shanghai, China), Lu said, where he was CSO and VP and Lan was VP and general manager of the Yangtze River subsidiary Shanghai Haiyan Pharmaceutical Technology Co. Ltd. Lu was most recently SVP of operations at CStone Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd. (Suzhou, China), and before that CSO and VP of Harbin Gloria Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd. (Beijing, China).  
GenFleet CSO Biao Zheng was a VP at Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and led immunology-focused collaborations out of the J&J Innovation Center in Shanghai. He also headed immunology discovery sciences in Shanghai for the GlaxoSmithKline plc (LSE:GSK; NYSE:GSK) subsidiary GlaxoSmithKline Pharma GmbH.

According to BioCentury's BCIQ database, there are two other TGFβR1 inhibitors in clinical development: galunisertib (LY2157299) from Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE:LLY), which is in Phase II testing for multiple cancers; and vactosertib (TEW-7197, NOV1301, NOV130101) from MedPacto Inc. (Suwon, South Korea), which is in Phase I/II testing for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and Phase I testing for metastatic gastric cancer and advanced solid tumors.

The target has recently generated partnership interest. In July, MedPacto teamed up with Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE:MRK) and AstraZeneca plc (LSE:AZN; NYSE:AZN) to test vactosertib in Phase Ib/IIa trials in combination with PD-1 inhibitor Keytruda pembrolizumab in metastatic or locally advanced colorectal, gastric and gastroesophageal junction cancer or with PD-L1 inhibitor Imfinzi durvalumab for metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

In 2015, Lilly announced a pair of partnerships to test galunisertib in combination studies with agents from Immunocore Ltd. (Abingdon, U.K.) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY).

Lu said not including reserves, the series A will give GenFleet 18-24 months of runway. "Down the road we expect [to submit] two INDs per year," he added.

The early stage investment is a rarity for Ally Bridge. According to BCIQ, the firm has not invested in a round classified as a series A since 2015.

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