PharmaBoardroom had the pleasure of interviewing HitGen chairman & CEO Dr Jin LI in July regarding the company’s focus on DNA-encoded chemical libraries (DEL) and their multipronged business strategy. Established in 2012, the company introduced the novel DEL technology platform to China.
As Dr Li recounted, “it was not easy to introduce such a novel technology in China. I had to secure initial funding from private investors, VCs and government grants. DEL technology was essentially unknown within the Chinese market and many people were sceptical about the claim that DELs could screen up to a billion molecules because the standard compound screening collections were only in the range of a few million. I had to educate the market and investors to foster an understanding of the technology as well as the trends and developments in the US and European markets.”
We aim to build a presence, probably in the form of small research centres, in the UK and the US
Over the past eight years, the HitGen team has laboured to innovate further on this platform, now boasting one of the largest DEL collections in the world. They have also forged partnerships with most of the top 20 global Big Pharma companies as well as built their own portfolio of proprietary assets.
The past few months have been busy for the enterprising start-up, which, in October, announced the acquisition of Vernalis, a UK-based global leader in structure-based drug discovery, for USD 25 million in cash. In addition to supplementing HitGen’s inhouse DEL platform with Vernalis’ deep expertise in fragment and structure-based approaches and medicinal chemistry, the acquisition also lets HitGen establish a presence in the dynamic Cambridge biopharma cluster in the UK, serving up a wealth of business development, academic and other partnership opportunities both in the UK and regionally within Europe.
This was very in line with Dr Li’s priorities for the company, as he explained “we want to strengthen our innovation foundation. Our operations are fairly concentrated in Chengdu at the moment, though we have a few colleagues in Boston and Europe. We aim to build a presence, probably in the form of small research centres, in the UK and the US, which would enable us to join the research and innovation community in the US and Europe while bringing us close to our partners in those regions.”
Just a week ago, HitGen also announced the closing of a collaboration and licensing agreement with Chinese pharmaco Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceuticals Holdings, one of the top pharma companies in China, with revenues of USD 9.23 billion in 2019, to develop and commercialize its HG030 programme in mainland China. HG030 is a novel Trk/ROS1 inhibitor discovered by HitGen, which received IND approval from China’s National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) in March 2020, and is entering Phase I clinical trial in China for patients with NTRK/ ROS1 gene fusion-positive cancers. Baiyunshan will pay HitGen an upfront licensing fee of RMB 38 million (USD 5.8 million), along with other milestone and royalty payments.