Chinese upstart DL Medicine forges alliance with Pfizer

Illustration of three DNA helices
The new company is backed by HitGen and Anlong Medical Fund. (Darwin Laganzon)

Chinese biotech NetVation DL Medicine has arrived on the scene with a two-year alliance with Pfizer, plus an equity investment from the big pharma group.

There’s not a lot of information around about DL Medicine, which emerges with backing from HitGen Pharma and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Anlong venture fund. The discovery-stage biotech says it will “screen and collaborate with Pfizer in producing new chemical entities against pre-selected targets from multiple therapeutic areas.”

DL Medicine will tap into HitGen’s DNA-encoded library (DEL) in the collaboration, a technology platform that has already attracted Pfizer as a collaborator along with Merck & Co., Johnson & Johnson, Aduro Biotech and others.

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HitGen uses DNA sequences to generate extensive compound libraries, which can then be screened against targets. Once compounds with strong binding to a target are found, the structure of the hits” can be deciphered using high-throughput DNA sequencing and the compounds optimized for further development. It’s a hugely productive process, and HitGen says it has built DELs with more than 85 billion compounds.

The close links with HitGen are apparent, with the latter’s head of R&D, Wei Chen, taking the role of CEO of the new company.

New target ideas and novel chemical matter are critical to our success in bringing new therapies to patients around the world,” said Yuan-Hua Ding, head of Pfizer’s external science and innovation unit, in a release. “This collaboration represents our worldwide commitment to partnering with companies that are doing innovative scientific work to help enhance our portfolio across multiple disease areas.”

The collaboration continues Pfizer’s ongoing efforts to tap into the fast-emerging biotech R&D scene in China, which have resulted in a series of small-scale partnerships in recent years plus a $350 million investment in a biotech center in Hangzhou that is the company’s first biotech hub in Asia.

Foreign drugmakers have tried with mixed success to increase their presence in China. The country’s pharmaceutical market is the world’s second largest at around $119 billion last year, according to BMI Research, which says regulatory reforms and expanding access to healthcare are continuing to prove a major draw for multinationals, despite a tough pricing regime and a large counterfeit industry.