How does a 3-year-old biotech startup get a big enough wallet to make a $100 million commitment toward fighting Covid-19? By delivering on results, says Brii Biosciences CEO Zhi Hong.
Brii, which has about 20 employees at its U.S. headquarters in Durham, this month announced that it’s committing the sum to advance a combination therapy, called BRII-196/BRII-198, aimed at treating Covid-19. Hong points to “significant investors,” attracted both to the firm’s science and its seasoned roster of experienced executives.
The stakes are high, Hong said from China, where the company is headquartered. Amid vaccine reluctance in the U.S. and breakthrough Covid cases worldwide, novel therapies are becoming critical in the global battle to squash the virus.
So Brii is taking a major bet – one that’s not without risks, Hong said. A new Covid-19 variant could emerge – one resistant to typical treatment methods.
“It always worries me,” he said. “Resistance is a real issue. … That’s one of the reasons we developed a cocktail. We want to make sure we have the best possibilities.”
Hong said the firm’s recent Phase 3 trial, which was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and showed a significant reduction in both deaths and hospitalizations, makes it a bet worth taking.
Specifically, Brii is working on a monoclonal antibody combination therapy. Hong, like many scientists, said he’s frustrated about folks who do not take the vaccine seriously. But he predicts the same hesitancy won’t exist with treatment options.
“It may be easy for them to refuse vaccination, but it will be harder for them to refuse treatment, because their life is potentially at risk,” he said. “I hope there is less pushback.”
As for the new Covid treatment, “we’re going to launch this ourselves,” he said. And that’s why so much capital is needed. The firm needs to expand its manufacturing scale and prepare for a commercial launch. The goal is to be ready should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorize an emergency use authorization, which could happen in the first quarter of next, Hong said.
Brii didn’t set out to be a Covid fighter, having been founded pre-pandemic. Initially, teams in China were working on hepatitis B research, with teams in the U.S. focusing on HIV. Hong said the firm knew it wanted to target infectious diseases with big impact.
When the pandemic began to rage in China, it became clear that there would be no bigger impact than Covid. In January of 2020, Brii’s collaborators in China were able to isolate human antibodies from an infected patient. Scientists narrowed their research to two particular antibodies and started to work on a treatment, the goal being to engineer a way to create an effective immune response to the disease.
When cases decreased significantly in China, research moved to the U.S. In addition to the U.S. headquarters in Durham, the firm has a sizable presence in San Francisco.
Since its founding, Brii has raised $415 million, according to Crunchbase.
Originally published by TriangleInno