Bankrolled by Chinese VCs, ex-Sanofi execs buy Cambridge antibody shop to create global immuno-oncology startup

China outbound capital restrictions
Harbour BioMed has bought an Atlas Venture-backed antibody shop.

Harbour BioMed has bought an Atlas Venture-backed antibody player to further its ambition to build a pipeline of immuno-oncology programs. The deal sees Chinese VCs teaming with Big Pharma veterans to gain control of transgenic mouse platforms developed and commercialized in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Shanghai, China-based Harbour BioMed has paid an undisclosed amount to buy Harbour Antibodies. China-focused VC shops Advantech Capital and Legend Capital put up the cash for a takeover that allows Atlas—which led a $3 million investment in Harbour Antibodies in 2013—to retain a stake in the combined organization.

That organization will continue to license Harbour Antibodies’ two transgenic mouse platforms to third parties, while also using them to build a pipeline of internal candidates. Collaborations based on the platforms—which produce two types of antibodies with fully human V domains—and deals to add assets Harbour BioMed can develop and commercialize in China are also planned.

The work will be overseen by a CEO-CSO team with years of R&D experience gained at Sanofi and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Harbour BioMed CEO Dr. Jingsong Wang headed up R&D in China for Sanofi until late last year, when he left to begin working as a consultant for Atlas. CSO Liang Schweizer was in charge of Asian cancer research at Sanofi before taking up the post at Harbour BioMed. Both spent stints at Bristol-Myers earlier in their careers.

Harbour BioMed’s founding team and the aforementioned China-focused VCs put up $50 million earlier this year to get the company started.

That allowed the company to establish a headquarters and R&D operation in Shanghai. Having bought Harbour Antibodies, it now has a business base in Cambridge and antibody platform development center in the Netherlands as well. The next step is to build out a drug discovery operation in the Boston area, a task that could benefit from the toehold in Cambridge and ties to Atlas Harbour BioMed gained in the buyout.

The takeover continues a busy end to 2016 for Chinese life science investors. Over the past month, Kymab has tapped Chinese backers for its $100 million round and China’s Innovent Biologics has unveiled a $260 million investment.