Gene-targeted animal model CRO Biocytogen nets $65M series C, eyes global expansion

As China starts to take a more active role in early and innovative drug research, its CRO industry is also in for a round of growth. Biocytogen, a Beijing-headquartered CRO specialized in gene-targeted animal models and related services, has just closed a 410 million Chinese yuan ($65 million) series C round.

The money will be used to expand its footprint in both China and the U.S. A new 1,300-square-meter (14,000-square-feet) lab and animal center offering preclinical pharmacology and pharmacodynamic services is slated to open in Boston next month, according to the company.

On top of an existing 15,000-square-meter facility for mouse model production, the company just began construction of a 35,000-square-meter R&D base in Beijing and it plans to start building an 80,000-square-meter model supply facility near Shanghai in October.

"In the next five years, global drug R&D expenses will continue to grow, which will benefit CROs; as part of that global effort, Chinese CROs will also enjoy fast growth, and the remarkable development of Chinese drug R&D businesses will also contribute to their expansion," said Kexiang Zhou, managing director at CMB International, the lead investor of this round. "We are glad to support Biocytogen, a comprehensive Chinese CRO built on a solid foundation."

Founded in the U.S. in 2008 by current CEO Yuelei Shen, Ph.D., Biocytogen is built on cutting-edge gene-targeting platforms. Based on the CRISPR/Cas9 technology, its patented extreme genome editing system for gene knockin and knockout can improve the homologous recombination efficiency of exogenous DNA by 10 to 20 times. With that, Biocytogen can develop over 1,100 models each year for its clients, Shen told FierceBiotech.

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Biocytogen's B-NDG highly immunodeficient mouse model, suitable for human cells or tissue transplantation, is a cornerstone of its early-stage drug research services. Its patient-derived xenograft tumor models, as well as humanized models engrafted with human peripheral blood mononuclear cells or CD34+ cells, are all based on B-NDG. In addition, the company also has a long list of immune checkpoint humanized mice for PD-1, PD-L1, CTLA4 and so on.

Biocytogen’s customers include academic institutions, such as the NIH, Harvard University, University of Tokyo, University of Oxford, Peking University, Tsinghua University; hospitals, such as Massachusetts General Hospital, Union Hospital, Peking University Hospital; as well as international companies, such as Johnson and Johnson, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck.

“Our goal is to become a world leader in animal model design and supply, as well as in antibody drug R&D based on that,” said Shen.

Outside of cancer immunotherapy, Biocytogen intends to tap into other therapeutic areas, such as autoimmune disorders and cardiovascular and liver diseases.