Brii bags rights to tuberculosis drug to further antibiotic push

Zhi Hong next to a banner that says "Search for a cure"
Brii Biosciences CEO Zhi Hong (Zhi Hong)

Brii Biosciences has licensed the greater China rights to AN2 Therapeutics’ clinical-stage tuberculosis drug. The deal is part of a broader push by Brii to use some of the $260 million it raised last year to bring new antibiotics to patients.

Antibiotic R&D has become a biopharma backwater, with a limited number of companies committing to the field and those that do being rewarded with an inhospitable commercial environment. Yet Brii, one of the biggest biotech launches of 2018, has made antibiotic R&D one of the pillars of its pipeline, leading to a deal spree that has seen it pick up rights to seven assets.

Brii’s willingness to invest in antibiotics is in part a reflection of its function as a bridge between the U.S. and China. As Brii CEO Zhi Hong sees it, multidrug resistance (MDR) is yet to become common enough in the U.S. to drive use of new antibiotics. The situation in China may be different. 

“The threat level is high enough [in China] to make the commercial case. I think physicians will be more willing to use antibiotics, especially new antibiotics, to treat critically ill patients. Those are the patients that if you don’t treat them with the right therapy and if you delay one day their mortality rate goes up 5% to 10%,” Hong said.

That reasoning has led Brii to strike a series of deals for regional rights to antibiotics, following up its June deal with Artizan Biosciences by forming a collaboration with Qpex Biopharma last month. The latest deal in the series sees Brii pick up greater Chinese rights to AN2’s drug against mycobacterium tuberculosis.

AN2 has quietly moved the candidate into clinical development, taking it to the point that it needs to start thinking about how to test the asset in more patients. Given China has an estimated 1 million new cases of TB as year, it is an obvious location. 

“China is the place when it comes to doing clinical studies for TB,” Hong said.

Around 7% of new cases of TB in China involve multidrug- and rifampicin-resistant (MDR/RR) strains, according to the World Health Organization. That figure supports Hong's position that China is more threatened by MDR bacteria than the U.S., where 2.5% new TB cases are drug resistant, and means it is important that AN2’s candidate can bypass the defences of microorganisms. 

Hong thinks the drug has a good chance of working in MDR, and even extensively drug-resistant, TB. 

“They have a very novel mechanism of action. Given that, you know that it’s going to work on multidrug resistant TB,” the Brii CEO said.

After the flurry of antibiotic deals, Brii has what Hong sees as a “pretty large pipeline,” leading it to enter a new stage of its evolution that is more focused on advancing existing assets than bringing in new programs. Brii expects to generate clinical proof-of-concept data from hepatitis B trials next year, around which time its efforts to test the in-licensed antibiotics in humans will be ramping up.  

In parallel, Brii will continue working on wholly owned assets against infectious diseases and another, undisclosed therapeutic area. The new therapeutic area will move Brii beyond infectious diseases but follow its existing model of focusing on conditions that disproportionately affect China.