RuiYi banks $15M from A-list backers to amp up Chinese R&D

RuiYi CEO Paul Grayson

As more and more drugmakers set sights on China through partnerships and acquisitions, Sino-American biotech RuiYi is taking a more direct approach, raising $15 million in venture cash to develop novel drugs in the country, for the country.

The biotech, which splits its headquarters between California and Shanghai, tapped an investor syndicate that includes 5AM Ventures, Versant Ventures, Aravis SA and Apposite Capital, plus the investment arms of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Merck KGaA to put together its second fundraise. RuiYi is developing a spate of preclinical drugs that target G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), and the company believes its proprietary discovery platform will give it a fresh supply of targets for years to come.

Leading the way is RYI-008, an interleukin-6 blocker with potential in autoimmune disease and cancer, the company said. RuiYi licensed the drug from arGEN-X back in 2012, and the company expects its newfound $15 million to pave the biologic's way into Phase I studies in China. Meanwhile, the cash should also pay for the preclinical development of RYI-018, a monoclonal antibody for cannabinoid receptor 1 with applications in peripheral disease, RuiYi said.

Beyond those two candidates, RuiYi says much of its potential lies in its development platform, dubbed iCAPS, which allows researchers to isolate particular GPCRs and ferret out antibodies and biologic modulators. Drug developers have long struggled to get small-molecule modulators to bind to GPCR targets, according to RuiYi, and the biotech believes its technology will help foster a pipeline of biologic solutions.

And that promise, coupled with China's huge unmet need, helped convince the biotech's investor syndicate to pony up for another round.

"RuiYi's strategy to develop novel therapeutics in an emerging market is a unique opportunity to address a large and underserved patient population who have not had access to biologic therapies," 5AM Managing Partner Andy Schwab said in a statement.

The company began life as Anaphore, a La Jolla, CA, outfit developing protein-based therapies and banking $38 million in Series A cash to pay its way. Two years later, the biotech changed direction entirely, appointing former Fate Therapeutics CEO Paul Grayson to take the helm, buying up China's RuiYi and then adopting its acquisition's name, forging forward with the aforementioned product engine and a plan to develop innovative drugs for the burgeoning Chinese market.

The biotech is hardly the only U.S.-founded firm looking to China, but most inbound players are focused on biosimilars, setting themselves up for competition in a field with low barriers to entry, Grayson said. RuiYi, on the other hand, is focused solely on proprietary biologics, figuring it can stay ahead of the game as China's nascent biotech industry continues to expand.

"We kind of followed the (Wayne) Gretsky rule of thinking, which is 'Don't skate where the puck is; skate to where the puck is going to be," Grayson told FierceBiotech. RuiYi doesn't have the scale to compete with a multinational manufacturing looking to cash in on, say, an Enbrel knockoff, but it does have a product engine that should churn out another half dozen antibodies before the Series B cash runs out, Grayson said.

Now, to speed RYI-008's path to market, RuiYi has lined up deals with Chinese developer Genor Biopharma and global manufacturer CMC Biologics, leaning on its collaborators for lab space and expertise. Next, it plans to take RYI-018 through protein engineering for IND-enabling studies, all while keeping up its iCAPS-powered discovery efforts.

- read the announcement