Chinese I-O biotech Abbisko raises $28M in first-round funding

The startup is led by the former head of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Shanghai-based startup Abbisko Therapeutics has raised $28 million in a Series A financing that will be used to advance its cancer immunotherapies into clinical trials.

The investment round—by Lilly Asia Ventures, Sinopharm Capital, Jianxin Capital and TF Capital—will be used to set up R&D teams and discovery centers that will help it advance its core anticancer programs, currently consisting of three preclinical compounds headed by lead candidate ABSK001, which is at the lead optimization stage.

Abbisko was set up last year and is located in the Zhangjiang biotech cluster in Shanghai. It is led by founder and CEO Yao-Chang Xu, a 25-year industry veteran who was previously general manager at Hansoh BioMedical. Xu's CV includes a six-year stint as executive director of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a prior role as head of chemistry for Eli Lilly in Indianapolis.

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"We are delighted that so many of the world's leading investment institutions have been involved in this very important round of financing," he said in a statement (in Chinese), adding that this is particularly gratifying as the company was only recently set up.

The company's website suggests it will focus on immuno-oncology drugs to treat cancers that have a high incidence among Asian patient populations, such as lung, liver, stomach and esophageal cancers, with a particular emphasis on developing small-molecule drugs. It also has early-stage programs in liver disease, viral infections and central nervous system disorders.

The fundraising is just the latest in a string of financings that highlight the rise in Chinese pharmaceutical R&D, with recent examples including a $100 million Series B round for Ascletis and $150 million-plus debut rounds for genomics startup iCarbonX and immuno-oncology player CStone.

The Chinese government has been working hard to deliver a thriving biotech sector, selecting it as a key industry in its last two five-year plans and spending an estimated $6 billion on pharma R&D investments between 2010 and 2015.

That has already resulted in an uptick in basic R&D that now seems to have been followed by a fast-maturing biotech industry to translate those discoveries into drug products and in some instances licensing them out to overseas drugmakers.