Week in Review: Insilico Signs Six AI-Drug Discovery Deal with Sanofi Worth Up to $1.2 Billion


Offers and financing

Insilico Medicine, a Hong Kong and New York-based AI drug discovery company, has signed a six-drug research collaboration with Sanofi (SNY) that could be worth up to $1.2 billion (see story) . Insilico will receive $21.5 million in initial and target nomination fees for each of the six targets. It will also be eligible for milestone payments and royalties. Insilico will apply its end-to-end Pharma.AI platform to Sanofi targets, including interdisciplinary drug discovery scientists who will advance lead therapeutic compounds to candidate development.

Wuhan Neurophth announced a $140 million deal to use Cyagen’s AI platform to discover new AAV vectors. Cyagen is a Santa Clara, California-based gene therapy CRO with offices in China and Japan that offers genetically engineered rodent models. Neurophth develops gene therapies for indications in ophthalmology. The company’s lead drug recently launched a Phase III trial for ND4-mediated Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (ND4-LHON) with plans to conduct trials of the drug in China and the United States.

Zenas BioPharma, a Boston-Shanghai biopharmaceutical company, received $118 million in proceeds from Series B preferred stock. A two-year-old company, Zenas will use the capital for a global Phase III trial of its lead candidate, the obexelimab, in patients with IgG4-mediated disease. The company also plans to advance other autoimmune disease programs into clinical development next year. In March 2021, Zenas broke cover with a portfolio of seven licensed immune and rare disease candidates. Round B was led by Enavate Sciences and included participation from a long list of new and existing investors.

Shanghai XellSmart Biomedical has closed a $27.6 million Series A1 funding to develop low-cost stem cell therapies for key unmet needs, including Parkinson’s disease. Founded in 2021, XellSmart has a 1,400 square meter R&D center in Shanghai and a 3,400 square meter pilot production base in Suzhou under construction. In addition to Parkinson’s disease, the company is developing stem cell therapies for retinopathy, brain trauma and cancer. The round was co-led by Qiming Venture, Lilly Asia Ventures, FIG and CSSD. Qiming and Lilly are former investors.

Harbor BioMed (HK:02142) will use its antibody discovery platform to identify nucleic acid-based oncology immunotherapies for Moderna (MRNA), an RNA company. Moderna will hold an exclusive, sublicensable license to operate a panel of sequences against multiple targets, derived from HBM’s proprietary heavy chain antibody discovery platform. Moderna will be responsible for all development costs, while Nona Biosciences, a subsidiary of HBM, will receive upfront and milestone payments plus royalties. HBM is headquartered in Boston with discovery operations in Rotterdam and laboratories in Suzhou.

Company News

Boston’s EQRx (EQRX) backed away from its promise to bring innovative drugs to the US market at a 50-70% discount to big pharma prices (see story). Now the company plans to seek “market prices” for two in-licensed drugs from Chinese companies and will drop development of an indication for a third drug. The abrupt change follows FDA policy requiring companies to conduct phase III trials in the United States of new drugs rather than basing NDAs entirely on data from China. More phase III trials mean higher development costs, destroying EQRx’s business plan.

Tests and approvals

Shanghai Asieris Pharma (SHA: 688176) has dosed the first patient in a phase III study in China of Hexvix, a contrast agent used to diagnose bladder cancer. Asieris acquired the China-Taiwan rights to the candidate from Photocure ASA of Oslo (OTC:PHCUF) in early 2021. Hexvix is ​​used for the cystoscopic detection of bladder cancer, including papillary tumors and carcinoma in in situ (CIS). When used with BLC, fluorescence from tumor tissue appears bright pink, while normal tissue remains dark blue. Asieris focuses on the development of innovative drugs for genitourinary tumors and related diseases.

Shanghai NovoCodex Biopharm has initiated a Phase 1 trial in China of an anti-CD70 ADC in patients with advanced solid tumors. NovoCodex, a majority-owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Medicine (SHA: 600216), acquired the Chinese rights to the candidate, ARX305, from Ambrx (AMAM) of San Diego in 2019, its second license from the company. According to Ambrx, ARX305 is the only anti-CD70 ADC in active development that targets CD70, a protein overexpressed in a wide range of solid and hematologic tumors.

Sirnaomics (OTCPK:SRNAF, HK:2257), a Suzhou-Maryland RNAi company, dosed the first patient in a Phase I clinical study of its lead candidate siRNA (small interfering RNA) as a fat-reducing agent in adults undergoing abdominoplasty (see story). STP705 is already being tested as a treatment for cholangiocarcinoma, non-melanoma skin cancer and hypertrophic scarring. Sirnaomics said the dose-finding trial will examine STP705 for its fat-reducing and subcutaneous tissue remodeling effects, noting that existing therapies require multiple sessions to produce only mild effects.

YS Biopharma has been granted permission to test its COVID-19 vaccine in the United States as a booster for other vaccine regimens. The Company’s PIKA COVID-19 vaccine consists of a PIKA adjuvant and a stable trimeric form of the recombinant SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein. YS Biopharma, formerly known as Yisheng Bio, is a Beijing-based vaccine company with operations in Singapore, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Two months ago, the company announced its intention to be acquired by a US-listed SPAC for $834 million.

Disclosure: None.

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Editor’s note: The summary bullet points for this article were chosen by the Seeking Alpha editors.

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