Drug Farm bags $56M to take novel hepatitis B drug into humans

Tian Xu, Ph.D., founder and chair of Drug Farm (Yale School of Medicine)

Drug Farm has raised $56 million to take its lead hepatitis B treatment into the clinic. The series A round will equip Drug Farm to start learning whether its mutagenesis-based approach to drug target discovery translates into effective therapies. 

Sino-American biotech Drug Farm is built on a way to generate libraries of genetic mutations in mice and analyze the animals for insights into potential drug targets linked to host immunity. Tian Xu, Ph.D., founder and chair of Drug Farm, and his collaborators published an overview of their approach to genomewide, phenotype-driven mutagenesis in PNAS in 2019.

Drug Farm has used the platform to create a pipeline led by a treatment for hepatitis B infection. The drug candidate, DF-006, is a first-in-class, orally bioavailable small molecule that is on the cusp of the clinic.

“We have successfully leveraged our forward genetics technology, piggyBac transposon mutagenesis to discover new targets, connect them to diseases and advance candidates toward clinical development,” Xu said in a statement. “Using our deep learning AI technology, we have been able to rapidly develop small molecule drugs against these targets, with an initial focus on HBV.”

With human trials on the horizon, Drug Farm has tapped investors for $56 million to fund the work. Investors in Drug Farm include BioVeda China Fund, WuXi AppTec’s corporate venture fund, South China Venture Capital, Detong Capital and Zhejiang United Investment Group.

The human studies will provide early evidence of whether DF-006 can contribute to a push to better treat hepatitis B that has attracted companies including Johnson & Johnson and Roche. Companies are coming at the challenge from multiple angles, but Drug Farm thinks it has struck upon a novel way of treating infections. 

Drug Farm is applying its platform to other liver diseases as well as to cancer and a rare form of blindness. Work on those indications is at an earlier stage than the hepatitis B program, which will serve as a proving ground for Drug Farm’s approach to target discovery.