Brii Biosciences nabs Icon, GSK veteran to lead new focus on neuroscience

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U.S.-China biotech Brii Biosciences is pushing out into new territory with a new hire alongside a focus on a new R&D area.

The company has taken on John Kraus, M.D., Ph.D., a veteran of Icon and GlaxoSmithKline, to lead its newly created neuroscience therapy area at a time when many biopharma companies are looking to divest, chop up and spin out work in this tough-to-crack area.

Brii has up until now focused on antibiotics and anti-infectives for diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis B and raised $260 million last year to help push its pipeline efforts. This move into neuro is a big one for the company, and it's not without its risks.

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But the company, which is a bridge biotech between China and the U.S. (but wants to work on treatments that really impact China), says central nervous system (CNS) disorders are on the rise in the China mainland and therefore pose a big opportunity, if it can get it right.

“Rising rates of urbanization in China, a vastly expanding aging population and emerging science opening the door to novel ways to treat CNS diseases have recently converged to make neurosciences an area of great interest for drug development and commercialization,” the company explained.

Kraus will now lead this new neuro team and focus, coming from being vice president of drug development services for major CRO Icon. The biotech did not in its statement, however, flesh out the detail as to what CNS and neuro areas it will be targeting, but the “expanding aging population” line may mean Alzheimer’s disease will be a target.

Overall, neuro has been a graveyard for biopharma in recent years, with a number of Big Pharmas spinning out neuro units due to a lack of ROI and mounting failures.

RELATED: Amgen to cut 149 staff in retreat from neuroscience R&D

One of the biggest of these has been in Alzheimer’s and dementia research, which has yielded nothing in more than decade, with areas in mental health also severely neglected. It remains to be seen whether Brii can pick up wins where so many have struggled and failed, though it deserves kudos for trying.

“Brii Bio has established a robust pipeline of assets targeting infectious diseases that present a significant burden to patients and the healthcare system in China,” said Zhi Hong, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Brii Bio.

“With John’s leadership, we are now expanding our focus to include CNS diseases where we see a vast opportunity to improve patient care by accelerating the development and delivery of breakthrough medicines and to open doors for partners.”

“Having seen firsthand the devastating impact that CNS diseases can have on patients’ lives, I have devoted the better part of my career to finding and developing better treatments,” added Kraus.

“Brii Bio has a unique opportunity to not only serve as a bridge to bring novel medicines to patients in China, but also to leverage the vast digital platforms available in China to improve patient care. I am enthusiastic about the potential of this model and excited to lead the team as we apply it in a new disease area.”

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