As­cle­tis reaps record $400M from Hong Kong in­vestors in the ex­change's first-ever pre-rev­enue biotech list­ing

The first pre-rev­enue biotech to list on Hong Kong’s stock ex­change has land­ed. And its suc­cess will like­ly spur plen­ty of more such of­fer­ings in search of a big pay­off.

As­cle­tis has raised $400 mil­lion by sell­ing 224 mil­lion new shares at around $1.78 (HK$14) — right in the mid­dle of its an­tic­i­pat­ed HK$12 to HK$16 range, Reuters re­port­ed. It’s sched­uled to be­gin trad­ing on Au­gust 1, less than three months af­ter it first filed for the IPO.

GIC, Sin­ga­pore’s sov­er­eign wealth fund, signed on to be the cor­ner­stone in­vestor and com­mit­ted $75 mil­lion for around 19% of the IPO shares. The rest — which in turn ac­counts for about 20% of As­cle­tis’ en­larged share cap­i­tal — was all snapped up in an over­sub­scribed fren­zy.

Jinzi Wu

Found­ed by ex-GSK ex­ec Jinzi Wu in 2011, As­cle­tis has a rep­u­ta­tion in Chi­na for be­ing the first do­mes­tic com­pa­ny to de­vel­op a hep C cure. The drug, Gano­vo, is ex­pect­ed to be ap­proved in Q3 of 2018. The team plans to fol­low that up with an­oth­er HCV treat­ment, ravi­dasvir (in-li­censed from Roche), along with HIV drug ASC09, and liv­er can­cer ther­a­py HASC06.

Be­ing the first biotech to test the new list­ing rules wasn’t easy. Wu pre­vi­ous­ly said that As­cle­tis faced “some chal­lenges” in nail­ing down the com­pa­ny’s val­u­a­tion.

The smooth tra­jec­to­ry of As­cle­tis’ IPO like­ly paves the way for the six oth­er biotechs and one CRO — from Hua Med­i­cine to Stealth Bio­Ther­a­peu­tics — that’s of­fered their own IPO pitch.

It’s al­so a mile­stone for HKEX, which has been an­gling to be­come an IPO des­ti­na­tion for biotech up­starts, es­pe­cial­ly the kind that’s been pop­ping up in main­land Chi­na the past decade.

Just a few days ago, word came out that the list­ing com­mit­tee is dis­cussing a sec­ondary list­ing with BeiGene $BGNE — the Bei­jing-based, Cel­gene-part­nered biotech whose Nas­daq list­ing (and im­mense suc­cess) had been seen as an im­pe­tus for Hong Kong to change its rules.

In its fil­ing, BeiGene wrote that it be­lieves it’s “well po­si­tioned to cap­ture the sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties in Chi­na” with its core as­sets zanubru­ti­nib, tislelizum­ab and pami­parib, all of which would ben­e­fit from the raise, from clin­i­cal tri­als to reg­is­tra­tion and com­mer­cial­iza­tion in both Chi­na and the US.

But the star to­day is As­cle­tis. The past year has brought a rush of biotech de­buts in the US, with Ru­bius claim­ing the largest biotech IPO so far on Nas­daq — rais­ing $241 mil­lion — while De­nali scored $250 mil­lion in late 2017. Now As­cle­tis, a com­pa­ny not well known out­side of Chi­na, has left those top per­form­ers in the dust, in­clud­ing Ax­o­vant, which held the record for the biggest biotech IPO.

With the fresh in­fu­sion of cash, Wu and his team can now car­ry on with the planned R&D and com­mer­cial­iza­tion of core prod­ucts, as well as in-li­cens­ing more drugs.

Two pre­vi­ous rounds of fi­nanc­ing had brought a col­lec­tive $155 mil­lion in­to As­cle­tis’ ac­counts. Among their back­ers: C-Bridge Cap­i­tal, Qian­Hai Eq­ui­ty In­vest­ment FOF, Gold­man Sachs, and Tasly Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal. Wu and his wife Ju­ly He are still the largest share­hold­ers of the com­pa­ny at the mo­ment, own­ing over 60% of the shares.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Fangliang Zhang (Imaginechina via AP Images)

The big mon­ey: Poised to make drug R&D his­to­ry, a Chi­na biotech un­veils uni­corn rac­ing am­bi­tions in a bid to raise $350M-plus on Nas­daq

Almost exactly three years after Shanghai-based Legend came out of nowhere to steal the show at ASCO with jaw-dropping data on their BCMA-targeted CAR-T for multiple myeloma, the little player with Big Pharma connections is taking a giant step toward making it big on Wall Street. And this time they want to seal the deal on a global rep after staking out a unicorn valuation in what’s turned out to be a bull market for biotech IPOs — in the middle of a pandemic.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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