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[Herald Interview] Singaporean antibody firm draws throngs of Korean investors

SK Holdings, Mirae Asset, HB, Kiwoom-Shinhan rush to invest in Hummingbird Bioscience

Hummingbird Bioscience CEO Piers Ingram
Hummingbird Bioscience CEO Piers Ingram
Singapore-based antibody discovery firm Hummingbird Bioscience is drawing attention from South Korean investors for its computational systems biology-driven drug candidate discovery technology.

“We have secured more than $65 million in investments for our company (and) are seeing increasing interest from South Korea-based venture and asset firms,” Hummingbird Bioscience CEO Piers Ingram said in an email interview with The Korea Herald.

The growing list of South Korean investors in Hummingbird include SK Holdings, Mirae Asset Capital, GNTech Venture Capital, HB Investment, DA Value-GiltEdge, Kiwoom Investment-Shinhan Capital and Wooshin Venture Investment.

SK Holdings joined the bandwagon in May as the lead investor in Hummingbird’s $6.5 million Series B extension funding. The Series B extension was a follow-up to the Series B funding, and was intended to enlarge the total funding size to $25 million in order to accommodate the over-subscription.

“We view SK Holdings as not merely an investor, but a strategic partner that shares our long-term vision to revolutionize treatment outcomes and drug discovery,” Ingram said.

Other key investors in the company outside of the South Korean ventures are Singapore-based Heritas Capital, SEEDS Enterprise, as well as Decheng Capital and Delian Capital from China.

Hummingbird was founded in 2015 in Singapore by Ingram and Jerome Boyd-Kirkup, the company's Chief Scientific Officer.

Ingram, a British scientist, had been at Sanofi for its biopharma research and development consulting and commercial strategy. He decided to co-found Hummingbird wishing to apply advances in systems biology and immunology to novel drug discovery and development. Singapore was the location of choice because of the Singaporean government’s drive to support and create a robust ecosystem for bioscience companies, he said.

At Hummingbird, some 30 systems biology specialists currently study novel antibody drugs that can selectively dock on malignant tumors and deter them from progressing in to tumors.

Hummingbird’s platform technology is called Rational Antibody Discovery, which predicts the structure of a protein and selects the optimal area for a drug to bind. The data-heavy, computational method is a differentiated approach from traditional medicine which had relied on fortuitous findings and years of trial-and-error.

“At Hummingbird, we use systems biology to understand how a particular system has become dysregulated and is now resulting in disease,” Ingram said.

“We have developed our platform technologies through data-rich, system-driven manners to discover and engineer therapies -- for example by turning on or off a particular signaling pathway, or engaging and re-purposing cell populations that may be present in the disease environment,” Ingram said.

Systems biology is a modern approach to biology that many younger scientists are gravitating toward, according to Ingram.

In this field of science, researchers take highly accurate measurements of the tens of thousands of different and constantly changing parameters that make up a biological system.

Contrary to the archaic, reductionist research method that had taken researchers several years to study the effects of a single gene or cell type, Hummingbird can “systematically and precisely prosecute drug targets and engineer therapies,” Ingram said.

Hummingbird currently has two antibodies that it will submit regulatory documents in the fourth quarter to initiate phase 1 clinical trial in humans.

These two pipelines are HMBD-001 and HMBD-002, which respectively target HER3-driven cancer and VISTA, a co-inhibitory immune checkpoint receptor that suppresses T-cell activity and plays a critical role in the formation of tumors.

“With these lead programs entering the clinics, we see ourselves evolving as a company from one that is solely focused on discovery to one that is driving both discovery and research and clinical development,” said Ingram.

For HMBD-001, it is collaborating with Cancer Research UK. Hummingbird also has partnerships with Amgen for multiple undisclosed targets, and has received a grant from Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to advance HMBD-002 to clinical trials.

Hummingbird has a pipeline of 12 preclinical assets that are “highly differentiated,” and “first-in-class or best-in-class drug candidates across multiple therapeutic areas including cancer, autoimmunity and infectious disease.”

Hummingbird is in the midst of rapid expansion and hiring, both in Asia and in the US. Besides its Singapore headquarters, Hummingbird has locations in Houston, Texas and San Francisco, California.

As the company grows, it appears certain that it will be raising additional capital.

“We do not rule out a public listing in the future, depending on market conditions and other factors,” Ingram said.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (kaylalim@heraldcorp.com)
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