Bridge Biotherapeutics’ partnering strategy and growth by external innovation
In this biotech networking event, two speakers from Bridge Biotherapeutics talked about the history of their company, their programs and how to connect, engage and partner with Bridge Biotherapeutics.
Bridge Biotherapeutics is a publicly traded, clinical-stage South Korean biopharma company with a global footprint – it has operations in the US and a dedicated partnership with BaseLaunch to access external innovation in Europe. The company was founded in 2015 with a dual business model of sourcing and accessing early external innovation complemented by in-house discovery and development of novel therapeutics
Introducing today’s speakers
Bridge Biotherapeutics’ history
Around 15 years ago, Chris visited Basel. At that time, he didn’t see many startups in the area.
Korea was the same. Its economy was dominated by big conglomerates. Since then, a lot of bottom-up, startup- and entrepreneurially-driven biotech ecosystems started to emerge.
Basel, too, has changed into a vibrant and dynamic city full of entrepreneurial energy and innovative ideas.
The similarity between the Korean and Basel biotech industries is uncanny.
Bridge Biotherapeutics was founded in September 2015 by the current CEO, James Jungkue Lee.
James is a career entrepreneur and highly experienced in the biotech industry. He noticed many promising assets in Korea that were undervalued or overlooked and wanted to develop them through pre-clinical and clinical stages. This was an unusual biotech business model in Korea.
James helped pioneer this business model in Korea.
A year later, Bridge Biotherapeutics raised about $10 million in Series A financing, all from local Korean VCs. Another year later, Series B financing yielded over $11 million and Bridge Biotherapeutics licensed its second program.
In 2018, the labor bore fruits. Bridge Biotherapeutics’ first program, started in 2015, was administered to the first patient. Bridge Biotherapeutics also managed to out-license its program to Daewoong, one of the largest pharma companies in Korea.
2019 was a particularly exciting year. The second program, launched in 2017, has been first-patient-administered, and Series C financing has concluded at more than $28 million. In July, Bridge Biotherapeutics struck the biggest licensing deal for an asset coming out of Korea. Boehringer-Ingelheim agreed to a deal for €1.1 billion in biobucks with €45 million as an upfront payment.
”I was investing in Korean biotech companies when I met James, our CEO. He pitched his company, not Bridge Biotherapeutics, to me. I didn’t invest then but I was deeply impressed with his knowledge, expertise and persistence. When James started his third company, which is Bridge Biotherapeutics, I agreed to serve as an external board member. Although the road to working together was long and winding, it led to a fruitful collaboration. My initial hesitation to invest in his previous company didn’t affect our relationship at all, and my first and subsequent interactions with him made it possible to work together at Bridge.Chris KimExecutive Vice President at Bridge Biotherapeutics
Headquartered in Korea, discovery in Boston
The headquarters in Korea is responsible for setting the long-term strategic vision of Bridge Biotherapeutics and managing the current clinical programs. During the height of COVID-19, Bridge Biotherapeutics launched its own discovery center in Boston. Chris empathizes the still-present startup mentality and the internal culture that fosters it.
A fruitful partnership with BaseLaunch
Bridge Biotherapeutics discovered the enormous potential of the Basel Area back in 2020 and identified it as an emerging epicenter of biotech globally. That’s when Bridge Biotherapeutics partnered with BaseLaunch as an industry partner and part of the selection committee.
Since joining BaseLaunch, Bridge Biotherapeutics has supported over 8 ventures to date.
What the future for Bridge Biotherapeutics holds
The last several years have been full of success stories. The establishment of the Boston Discovery Center, a new partnership with Scripps and starting the development of three new programs are only a few of them.
The ambition is to double the number of clinical programs to six or seven in the next three years and have a first FDA-approved product. To achieve this, the headcount of Bridge Biotherapeutics will likely double to over 80 people.
Bridge Biotherapeutics aims to become a fully integrated biotech company in the coming decade.
Current programs in Bridge Biotherapeutics’ focus
Pavel introduces the three programs Bridge Biotherapeutics is currently working on. Bridge Biotherapeutics’ main indications are cancer, fibrosis and UC (Ulcerative Colitis), with cancer being the leading one.
Bridge Biotherapeutics was one of the first companies in Korea to adopt an NRDO (No Research and Development Only) business model around the time of its founding.
While widely known overseas, it was met with resistance and skepticism domestically. This strategy allowed the company to maximize the use of its highly specialized but small workforce while saving time and costs on pre-clinical development.
”Our company is no stranger to taking the path less traveled, and by not concerning ourselves too much with ‘this is the way others have been doing things, so we should too’ has undoubtedly helped us get to where we are today while steadily differentiating ourselves from most other Korean biotech companies who may operate more traditionally.Pavel PrintsevDirector at Bridge Biotherapeutics
Oncology: The world’s first 4th generation EGFR TKI
Bridge Biotherapeutics’ goal with this program is to bring the world’s first 4th generation EGFR TKI to market to treat NSCLC in patients that carry the C797 EGFR mutation.
In up to one-third of patients who stop responding to the 3rd generation EGFR TKIs, the highly resistant EGFR C797 mutation develops. Bridge Biotherapeutics’ two 4th generation EGFR TKIs are highly sensitive to these mutations specifically but also to other EGFR mutations commonly found in NSCLC.
The market launch is still a few years away. But Pavel says they’re pleased with the Phase 1a dose-escalation trial. It’s currently being conducted in South Korea and there have been two confirmed partial responses. Patients have been tolerating the drug well. The Phase 1b trial has begun patient enrollment in May.
Fibrosis: First-in-class candidates
With its fibrosis program, Bridge Biotherapeutics wants to develop multiple first-in-class candidates for a different target and MOA to treat IPF.
Because there is no known singular cause for IPF, Bridge Biotherapeutics wants to explore multiple independent pathways that are known to be involved in the pathogenesis of the disease. The goal is to combat IPF from several directions at the same time.
Bridge Biotherapeutics’ most advanced IPF asset, BBT-877, a first-in-class autotaxin inhibitor, began patient enrollment for its multi-national Phase 2 trial from last November, and the first patient was dosed in April.
Ulcerative Colitis: Perfecting targeted delivery
In its UC program, Bridge Biotherapeutics perfects the targeted delivery of BBT-401, a first-in-class pellino-1 inhibitor, to sites of inflammation within the colon.
BBT-401 has shown to be well-tolerated, have an attractive safety profile and outperform leading competitor drugs in pre-clinical experiments. But Pavel says that efficacy can be further improved with additional formulation optimization that will maximize the amount of drug product that reaches the inflamed sites within the colon.
Formulation development is already underway, and Bridge Biotherapeutics wants to bring this life-changing treatment to UC patients as soon as possible.
A few questions from the audience
Q: You have an impressive reach with Korea and Boston. What are your plans for Europe, Switzerland, and the Basel Area?
A: Our main goal is to become a fully integrated biotech company. We feel that Basel has exactly what we need to get there. The growing ecosystem based on innovative early-stage science as well as the world’s leading big pharma here enables innovation and growth for biotech companies in a manner that’s very unique globally.
Q: What traits have you observed in successful startups?
A: Successful biotech ecosystems have a few underlying similarities, such as a focus on science. Entrepreneurs are willing to take risks and invest in trial and error. They’re also very good at breaking mental barriers to creativity and collaboration.
Q: When it comes to partnering, what exactly is Bridge Biotherapeutics looking for in terms of collaboration?
A: We’re very open-minded and pursue new and innovative ideas no matter where they come from. A look at our pipeline shows that all our assets are first-in-class. We’re willing to do things that have not been done before. We encourage anyone who’s interested in working with us to get in touch.
Q: Do government investments into the life sciences ecosystem bring value, or are they not necessary, given that government officials may not be specialized in the field?
A: Although I empathize with the startup-led approach, government support is crucial. Government can help set long-term vision. Government initiatives can provide important initial funding for projects or ventures that are often too early or too risky, even for venture capital investors. Sometimes government money can be the least risk-averse.