China's Hua Medicine bags $25M for diabetes R&D

Shanghai's Hua Medicine hauled in a $25 million B round to advance its work on a new treatment for diabetes, bringing in investors from the U.S. and China as it moves toward late-stage development.

Ally Bridge Group, based in Hong Kong and the U.S., led the funding round, joined by a syndicate that includes Arch Venture Partners, Venrock, Fidelity and WuXi PharmaTech ($WX), China's largest CRO. With the cash, Hua will pay the way through Phase II for its lead candidate, a Type 2 diabetes drug in the midst of Chinese trials.

The drug, sinogliatin, is a fourth-generation glucokinase activator in-licensed from Roche ($RHHBY), belonging to a class of therapies that help the body better recognize glucose and thus produce more insulin, lowering baseline blood sugars. Similar therapies from Merck ($MRK) and others never made it to market, but Hua believes its drug has a novel mechanism of action that sets it apart from its forebears in the space.

The plan now is to kick off a 280-patient Phase II trial in China, the company said, testing to see how well sinogliatin can reduce blood glucose at 12 weeks and wrapping up enrollment by the end of 2015. At the same time, Hua plans to begin developing of the drug in the U.S., filing an IND this quarter and completing Phase I studies by year's end.

Beyond its lead asset, Hua plans to spend some of its new funds on an early-stage candidate for central nervous system diseases, the company said, while bankrolling the preclinical development of its other pipeline assets.

Hua's fundraise illustrates a growing trend in biopharma: While Western outfits have long been interested in China's commercial appeal, more and more drugmakers and investors are now prizing the country's R&D capabilities. Merck, Sanofi ($SNY) and Novartis ($NVS) are among the many to blueprint standalone research hubs in China, while venture outfits including OrbiMed have turned a particular focus to biotech startups in the region.

And Hua, according to Ally Bridge founder Frank Yu, is emblematic of what the country has to offer on that front.

"Hua Medicine represents a great example of world-class innovation in China, where locally-developed innovative drugs at affordable prices are strongly needed, with the additional opportunity of taking such innovation overseas," Yu said.

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