Anji Pharma adds $70M for clinical trials, expansion of ‘hub and spoke’ biz model


Anji Pharma, a biotech with outposts in China and the U.S., has raised $70 million to continue clinical development of two metabolic disorder drugs and begin work on an oncology pipeline.

The cash infusion, a Series B round of financing, was provided entirely by China-based CR Capital, a firm that invests in biotech companies in the U.S. and China with a goal of facilitating cross-border business opportunities. Anji, founded in 2018, has sites in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Beijing; and Shanghai. The biotech’s approach is to find promising drug candidates and establish subsidiaries to develop each of them. As the programs make clinical progress, Anji invests more.

Anji’s lead drug candidate, ANJ900, was initially developed by San Diego-based Elcelyx Therapeutics. Anji acquired the rights to the type 2 diabetes compound in 2019, after the drug completed Phase 2 testing. Under Anji, it’s currently in Phase 3 testing in type 2 diabetes patients who have moderate renal impairment.

ANJ900 is a delayed-release formulation of metformin, which has become a mainstay of type 2 diabetes treatment. Though metformin is an old drug, the version that Anji is testing is based on new insight into how the drug works best. For optimal effect, research has shown that the drug needs to reach the lower part of the small intestine. Delayed release of metformin accomplishes that goal, which minimizes how much of the drug circulates throughout the body. By reducing this systemic exposure, ANJ900 is intended to reduce side effects.

The improved side effect profile of Anji’s version of metformin could pave the way for treating chronic kidney disease patients whose impaired kidney function makes them poor candidates for the drug. Based on the earlier mid-stage data, the company plans to start a second Phase 3 study later this year testing ANJ900 in chronic kidney disease patients.

Anji describes its approach as a “hub and spoke” business model, and the idea isn’t entirely new. Roivant Sciences was among the first of these companies, scouting out programs that were shelved or had stalled in pharma companies or university laboratories, and in-licensing them to continue their development. That formula was Roivant’s main business until recent progress, including work with artificial intelligence technologies, sparked a pivot toward internal drug discovery and research.

BridgeBio Pharma is another company that was early to the hub and spoke approach, and some of those spokes have spun off into separate, publicly traded companies. Earlier this year, BridgeBio was awarded its first FDA approval, a treatment for a rare metabolic disease. More recent adopters of the model include Centessa Pharmaceuticals, which formed in February with 10 subsidiaries. Centessa went public in May, raising $250 million to support the work of its subsidiaries, some of them in the clinic.

Anji’s second metabolic program, ANJ908, was acquired from Novartis in 2018. The drug is currently in Phase 2 testing in the U.S. and China for chronic idiopathic constipation. Data are expected in mid-2022. Anji expanded into oncology in June, with the acquisition of a preclinical cancer drug candidate from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Anji said that some of the Series B cash will support clinical development of its new assets, along with the acquisition of more programs in oncology, neuroscience, and infectious disease.

“We look forward to using these proceeds to expand our Phase 3 program for ANJ900, deliver clinical data next year for ANJ908, and continue building a broad pipeline that addresses global health needs,” Anji CEO Brian Hubbard said in a prepared statement.

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