Red Blood Cell Therapist Westlake Therapeutics Closes Pre Series-A Funding Round
The rising wind of biotech is bringing blood cell-based therapies into the innovative drug market, attracting government and corporate investors.
Westlake Therapeutics today closed a pre Series-A fundraising of nearly CNY 100 million. It is a government-led investment dominated by Westlake District’s Science and Technology Direct Investment Fund, partly participated in by Tasly (600535:SH). The startup plans to utilize this bankroll to facilitate internal administration, build a comprehensive research and development team, update laboratory infrastructures and critical construction of pre-clinical R&D.
Founded in 2019, the Hangzhou-based startup is a medical arm of the first-ever Chinese non-profit private research institute, Westlake University. This startup is incubated at the School of Life Sciences, where it is seeking fundamental solutions to improved human wellbeing and the reduction of disease. The other two schools are set in the subjects of science and engineering.
Cellular therapy has been considered as the most promising solution for rare diseases. Based on cellular characteristics, this methodology engineers cells and injects healing effects into them. This young startup focuses on red blood cell therapy — first extracting hematopoietic stem cells, transforming them into medicine-carriers, and then transfusing them back into human bodies.
“Red blood cells are the most boring cells on the clinical stage,” says Dr. Gao Xiaofei, the board of Westlake Therapeutics, “but their biological traits can be utilized for many interesting explorations.”
Currently, one of the most popular applications for cellular therapy is to treat gout. In China, over 80 million people suffer from this chronic disease, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This therapy designs a transition tunnel on the red blood cell to let in more of a particular kind of enzyme to transform and lower uric acid in the human body. Successful tests on lab rats push further trials in clinical cooperation with public hospitals.
More than chronic disease, red blood cell therapy shows more significant potential in rare diseases, including hemophilia, phenylketonuria (PKU) and other lesser-known names. But all these treatment strategies follow the same principle, referred to as ‘supplementing the shortage.’
“We have been focusing on cellular therapies for the last five years,” says Mr. Ji Haibin, the manager and partner of Tasly Capital, the participant investor. “Even though this project has just stepped out of the laboratory, we are confident in the innovative power of this project and the Westlake University-based team.”
On the global scale, there is only a smattering of traceable biotechnological companies that focus on stem cell-based biological engineering: US-based Rubius Therapeutics (RUBY:Nasdaq), UK-based Plasticell Limited and Westlake Therapeutics.
Rubius Therapeutics was founded in 2013 and invested in by Flagship Pioneering, a US venture capital firm. It obtained exclusive patents of Professor Harvey Lodish’s laboratory at Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT in 2015. So far, its red blood cellular technology has seen three different applications in rare disease, oncological solutions and autoimmune disease. Tagged as one of the unicorns of 2018, Rubius landed on the Nasdaq board at a valuation of USD 1.8 billion. Now its market value is USD 520 million as of June 1, 2020.
Plasticell announced in 2017 a strategic cooperation with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Its stem cell screening technique filters GSK’s different combinations of inductors and then proceeds to in-depth research of cellular treatments.
In one outlook, a tremendous market is growing behind this technology. Considering the footprint of US comparable startups, this may be plenty of value-added space on the path ahead.