Chinese biotech Clover Biopharmaceuticals may have flown under the radar thus far but it has stepped into the global limelight recently by partnering with GSK to develop a vaccine from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, now wreaking havoc around the world. But who exactly are the brains behind Clover Biopharmaceuticals and what makes them special?
Based in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Clover may have bucked the Chinese biotech trend by selecting a home base outside of Shanghai but its leadership boasts the typical profiles of all-star Chinese biotech teams. Co-founder, president and Chairman Dr Peng Liang did his PhD and Postdoc in the US, the latter at Harvard Medical School, publishing over 80 original research papers in peer-reviewed journals. He is also the inventor of the Trimer-Tag© technology that forms Clover’s technical bread-and-butter. Other executive members and scientific advisory board members possess decades of experience at globally-leading pharmacos including Boehringer-Ingelheim, Sanofi and Novartis, as well as flagship Chinese biotechs like Legend Biotech and Beigene, including Dr Xiaodong Wang, one of the founders of BeiGene. The prowess of the team has not gone unnoticed by investors: on 28 November 2019, Clover closed a USD 43 million Series B round, bringing the total capital raised since 2016 to USD 100 million.
The company has set its sights on “discovering, developing and commercializing transformative biologic therapies, utilizing its proprietary Trimer-Tag technology platform”, which allows the production of novel covalently-trimerized fusion proteins. According to their website, many major disease targets, including different cancers and autoimmune diseases but also COVID-19, are trimerization-dependent, which means that Trimer-Tag technology is able to effectively target previously undruggable pathways that could shed light on new therapeutics for such diseases. According to Clover, Trimer-Tag© fusion proteins are the optimal biologic therapies to activate trimerization-dependent receptor pathways. On 10 February 2020, Clover announced that they are the first company in the world to disclose a 2019-nCoV vaccine candidate that can successfully be recognized by antibodies produced by previously-infected patients.
Its broad portfolio can be divided into three sections, dealing respectively with targeted & immuno-oncology therapies; subunit vaccines, to which the COVID-19 vaccine belongs; and Fc-Fusion proteins, which do not use the Trimer-Tag technology. With the GSK partnership, GSK will provide Clover with its proprietary adjuvants to enhance the effectiveness of their vaccine, currently in pre-clinical development.
In addition to this novel technology, Clover also touts the capabilities of its state-of-the-art 35,000m2 in-house cGMP biomanufacturing capabilities as a strong differentiating factor, which means they would be able to rapidly scale up and produce large quantities of their COVID-19 vaccine should it prove viable.