HONG KONG – South Korean pharmaceutical company Chong Kun Dang Holdings recently invested KRW5 billion (US$4.1 million) in Biorchestra Co. Ltd., a Korean startup based in Daejeon that aims to develop Alzheimer's dementia treatment based on microRNA.

Under the terms, Chong Kun Dang, which focuses on investments in new technologies, will purchase conversion preferred stocks, worth KRW5 billion, issued by Biorchestra, and secure the Alzheimer's dementia treatment portfolio.

"We highly value Biorchestra's potential to develop Alzheimer's treatment based on animal experimental research results," a spokeswoman at Chong Kun Dang told BioWorld. "Chong Kun Dang and Biorchestra plan for joint R&D of Parkinson's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease treatment."

The investment will take the form of series B funding to support research into potential drug candidates and preclinical testing. The funding will be carried out with various venture capital companies, including CKD Venture Capital Corp., in which Chong Kun Dang has a majority stake, Dayli Partners Inc., NHN Investment Co. Ltd. and SBI Investment Co. Ltd.

Founded in 2016, Biorchestra is developing a solution for dementia, using early screening by detecting salivary phospho-tau and amyloid beta protein, two substances believed to be linked to Alzheimer's, with the aim of developing a single microRNA that can simultaneously control phospho-tau and amyloid beta precursor protein.

Its Alzheimer's candidate, BMD-001, is designed to work via multiple target mechanisms that remove toxic proteins and suppress immune cell inflammatory responses. The company uses its in-house developed drug carrier to carry out the multiple target mechanisms, by activating the phagocytosis of brain immune cells through the blood-brain barrier.

Biorchestra will start preclinical testing by the end of this year, with plans to begin global clinical trials next year.

R&D momentum

Its new investor, Chong Kun Dang, is one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in Korea. The drugmaker's sales last year were around KRW956 billion, and it invests about 12% from those sales back into drug R&D. Founded in 1941, the company develops and distributes drugs for various indications such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes.

Chong Kun Dang has developed and launched two new drugs in Korea. One is Camtobell (belotecan), a topoisomerase I inhibitor for small-cell lung cancer and ovarian cancer. The other is Duvie (lobeglitazone), a PPAR-gamma agonist with a blood glucose-lowering efficacy for diabetes.

The company develops a total of 27 drugs, including five biologics. CKD-11101, a treatment for anemia, is an erythropoiesis-stimulating protein (NESP) biosimilar and the second-generation of epoetin alfa. The drug is in phase III trials in Korea and in preclinical stages overseas. It recently gained approval in Japan, where it will be marketed through a partnership with Mylan NV's Japanese subsidiary. (See BioWorld, Oct. 7, 2019.)

Chong Kun Dang also is carrying out three preclinical trials testing CKD-12101, a second-generation granulocyte colony-stimulating factor to treat neutropenia; CKD-701, a Lucentis (ranibizumab, Roche Holding AG) biosimilar for age-related macular degeneration; and CKD-702, a bispecific antibody to treat cancer.

Chong Kun Dang also secures two platform technologies. HDAC6, which is mainly positioned in the cytoplasm and deacetylates non-histone proteins, regulates cellular processes including cell growth, cell migration, intracellular transport and cell death. The technology is used to develop new treatments for axonal transport disruption, cancer and autoimmune disease. Liquid Crystal, the other platform technology, develops sustained-release injectables by maintaining the effect of the drug from a week to several months after a single injection. When it contacts body fluids after injection, it is transformed into a gel and releases the drug steadily over an extended period.

The company has expanded its market overseas in immunosuppressants, cancer drugs and antibiotics through its offices in ASEAN. It has founded a joint venture in Bekasi, Indonesia, with Indonesian pharmaceutical company PT. Otto Pharmaceutical Ltd. to produce and distribute Chong Kun Dang's cancer drugs such as Belloxa (oxaliplatin). The Korean company also markets and distributes its oncology products, antihypertensives and antibiotics in Vietnam.

"During the fourth quarter this year, the company's R&D momentum will be NESP biosimilar marketing approval and launch in Japan that will lead an export increase in 2020. Also, the cancer treatment biologic CKD-702 is expected to enter clinical trials phase I in the U.S. and enhance the company's R&D capability," Hye-rin Lee, an analyst at KTB Securities Co. Ltd. in Korea, told BioWorld.

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