A biotech born out of an antibody platform company has added another $75 million to its investment haul, money it says will allow it to advance its clinical-stage compounds and continue to build its portfolio of earlier-stage therapeutics.
Shanghai-based Harbour BioMed emerged in 2016 after acquiring technology developed by Harbour Antibodies, a Dutch company that built a business around licensing out its antibody drug discovery technology—two kinds of mice genetically engineered to create fully human antibodies, rather than engineered antibodies from mouse DNA.
Since then, Harbour BioMed, which launched with a plan focusing on drug development, has established a pipeline of experimental oncology and immunology treatments, including some developed using those mouse models.
Its most advanced proprietary candidate is HBM4003, a Phase 1 cancer immunotherapy designed to block the immune-system protein CTLA-4. (That is also the target of ipilimumab (Yervoy), which was the first FDA-approved checkpoint inhibitor, a type of immunotherapy.) A trial, underway in Australia, is the first in an international development program that will include studies in the US, EU and China, the company says. Its other immune-oncology programs are preclinical.
Its immunology products pipeline includes five in-licensed clinical-stage programs. Harbour BioMed is evaluating its most advanced, the dry eye disease treatment tanfanercept, with partner HanAll in a Phase 3 clinical trial. It has the rights to that and its other immunology programs in-licensed from HanAll in the China market.
Harbour BioMed founder and CEO Jingsong Wang previously worked at Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) as head of China R&D and head of translational medicine for the Asia Pacific region. In January 2019 Harbour BioMed added another Sanofi vet: Atul Deshpande, most recently global operations lead of Sanofi Genzyme’s dupilumab (Dupixent) franchise, who joined as chief strategy officer and head of US operations.
“Since we have this in-house technology and really significant expertise in antibody engineering and antibody production itself, we have a lot of leverage in terms of playing around with different targets and formats of molecules,” Deshpande says. That kind of innovation is what his team in the US is primarily focused on, he added.
The company says it plans to put its new money toward accelerating the advancement of its clinical-stage drug candidates and continuing to build its preclinical pipeline.
Harbour says its mouse models are especially useful because they eliminate the need for antibody humanization. And one of the two strains it has developed can generate antibodies that are smaller than usual—they consist of only heavy chains, rather than heavy chains and light chains like typical antibodies—which makes them useful in the development of antibody fragment-based therapeutics such as nanobodies, bi-specific antibodies, and CAR-T.
Instead of solely licensing out the technology, as the iteration of the company from which it acquired the mouse models did, Harbour has entered into a number of collaborations—including one with the Mount Sinai Heath System in New York announced this month, through which the academic medical system will use the antibody discovery platform to seek potential treatments for COVID-19 as part of a larger multiyear collaboration to develop antibodies for treatment and prevention of disease.
The investment, announced Thursday, stemmed from “a continuation of the conversations we started in preparation for the round B,” an $85 million financing the company completed in August 2018, Deshpande says.
New investors that participated in the financing—which the company dubbed its “B plus” round—were Korean multinational SK Holdings, the Hong Kong-based Greater Bay Area Fund, Efung Capital, Zheshang Venture Capital, Zhejiang University Future Capital, and JT New Century. Earlier investors, including Legend Capital, private equity firm Advantech Capital, and GIC, a Singaporean sovereign wealth fund, also kicked in funds.
Harbour has about 170 employees, mostly in China in offices in Suzhou and Shanghai. About 10 people with the company work in Cambridge, MA. The company also has an office in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where the mouse model technology was invented, which focuses on advancing those platforms.