Durham’s Brii Biosciences Makes ‘Fierce 15’ List

Brii Biosciences logo

Brii Biosciences, a new biopharmaceutical company with North Carolina roots, has been named to the Fierce 15, an annual listing of notable bioscience startup companies published by the industry publication FierceBiotech.

The company, founded in May with offices in Durham, San Francisco, Beijing and Shanghai, is aiming to bring innovative new medicines to China – the world’s second largest prescription drug market – with backing from major investors, partners and advisors.

Brii has amassed $260 million in committed funding from global investors ARCH Venture Partners, 6 Dimensions Capital, Boyu Capital, Yunfeng Capital, Sequoia Capital and Blue Pool Capital. Notably, Yunfeng Capital was co-founded by Jack Ma, the billionaire Chinese business magnate, investor, and philanthropist who is the co-founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate.

Brii is among several U.S.-based bioscience startups that have received $4.2 billion in cash infusions from Asian investors so far this year, according to Reuters.

Brii reflects Triangle expertise

Brii has enlisted some veteran advisors including Clay B. Thorp, general partner of the Durham-based venture capital firm Hatteras Venture Partners, who previously co-founded several life science companies in North Carolina.

Additionally, James Klein, who was chief financial officer at several bioscience companies including Durham-based Triangle Pharmaceuticals, an HIV-focused company that was sold to Gilead Sciences in 2002, is serving as Brii’s interim CFO.

Beijing street scene from Shutterstock
Brii plans to provide breakthrough medicines to China. 
-- Shutterstock image

In a statement announcing its creation, Brii said it “aims to accelerate the development and delivery of breakthrough medicines in China through partnerships, best-in-class research and development, and the disruptive application of digital and data insight.”

The company will focus initially on infectious diseases solely for the Chinese market.

“The pace of innovation has accelerated over the past decade, resulting in dramatically better treatments and cures for life-threatening diseases, but the reach of those innovations in China has been limited,” said Zhi Hong, Ph.D., Brii’s co-founder, president, and chief executive officer. “Delivering innovative medicines to Chinese patients constitutes not just a market opportunity but an opportunity to significantly improve public health. China needs faster, affordable access to new therapies, and has the public health infrastructure and advanced digital and data technologies to enable that at scale.”

Hong previously was a senior vice president and head of the infectious diseases unit at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Research Triangle Park. Under his leadership, a joint venture between GSK, Pfizer and Shionogi called ViiV Healthcare developed Tivicay and Triumeq, medicines for treating HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS. 

During his last few years with GSK, Hong was responsible for helping build a public health institute in China focused on infectious diseases, giving him insight into that country’s healthcare challenges and opportunities.

Brii an acronym for 'breakthrough innovation and insight'

Brii, which stands for breakthrough innovation and insight, has forged partnerships that it said would “accelerate infectious disease drug development and commercialization in China and leverage technology and data to drive improvements to the Chinese healthcare system and outcomes for patients.”

These include:

  • A memorandum of understanding with WuXi AppTec and WuXi Biologics for priority access to WuXi’s research and development capabilities.
  • A partnership with Vir Biotechnology of San Francisco that grants Brii Bio options on exclusive greater China rights for up to four assets in Vir’s portfolio of infectious-disease therapeutics. 
  • A digital and data insight partnership with AliHealth, the healthcare arm of Alibaba Group.
  • Brii has also signed a collaboration deal with Tsinghua University in Beijing to help build the institution’s clinical capabilities.

“China faces significant medical needs in the prevention, treatment, and cure of serious infectious diseases, yet presents challenges for pharmaceutical innovation,” said Vir CEO George Scangos, Ph.D. “Brii Bio combines a highly successful leadership team, clinical skills, and understanding of Chinese medical and cultural needs. We are happy to be their partner in accelerating the development of medicines for infectious diseases, not only in China, but globally.”

While Brii’s U.S. team will focus on partnerships and global strategies, its China team will be responsible for clinical and commercial development, Hong told FierceBiotech.

Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
Tue, 10/02/2018 - 17:01