Brii hands VBI a lifeline, stumping up $15M for global rights to hepatitis B program and more

Brii Biosciences has stepped in to ease VBI Vaccines’ money problems. The Chinese biotech is handing VBI $15 million to strike a deal that will give it global license to a hepatitis B program—and an ongoing look at its partner’s financial situation.

VBI agreed to collaborate with Brii to develop recombinant protein-based hepatitis B immunotherapy VBI-2601 in greater China in 2018 in return for a $4 million upfront payment and a $7 million equity investment. Three years later, the partners tweaked the deal to add another phase 2 combination trial of the candidate to the development plan.

The latest change sees Brii pick up the rights to VBI-2601 in the rest of the world. Brii is paying $5 million upfront and committing up to $226 million in regulatory and sales milestones for the global license. The candidate, also known as BRII-179, is in phase 2 trials in China. Brii sees the asset as part of a functional cure and plans to study it in combination with other therapies.

As part of the amended deal, Brii is also paying $2 million upfront for rights to the FDA-approved PreHevbrio, a three-antigen vaccine for preventing hepatitis B, in most of Asia and making a $5 million advance payment for clinical and commercial supply of both VBI products. The final $3 million piece of the $15 million upfront is an equity investment in VBI.

VBI filed to raise more money within minutes of disclosing the expanded Brii deal. The actions will shore up the financial position of a biotech that, like many of its peers, has faced mounting money worries in recent quarters. VBI burnt through more than $20 million over the first three months of the year, leaving it with $40.4 million in cash at the end of March. The biotech has cut spending, but cash remains tight.

Brii is keeping an eye on the situation with its partner. As part of the new deal, VBI has agreed to take certain steps when it has less than $50 million of consolidated cash on hand to fund ongoing operating activities. The biotech will provide Brii with a calculation “in reasonable detail” of its available operating cash, copies of materials it shares with its board and quarterly calls with Brii’s C-suite, as necessary.