Chinese antibody player chases Hong Kong IPO with lead Rituxan challenger ready for late-stage test
Oncology R&D has boomed in China with a stable of homegrown biotechs churning out late-stage clinical hopefuls. Much of those have been so-called “me-too” drugs, and now another biotech is looking for a public raise with Roche blockbuster Rituxan’s market in its sights.
Beijing Mabworks Biotech has submitted its application to trade on the Hong Kong Exchange as it prepares to take its “third-generation” CD20 antibody into Phase III trials for follicular lymphoma and diffused large-B cell lymphoma, the drugmaker said in a filing with the exchange Sunday.
In addition to its lead candidate, MIL62, an antibody using a similar mechanism to Roche’s Gazyva, MIL has five other clinical drugs in the fold and another six molecules in preclinical development. So far, the most is known about MIL62, which Mabworks hopes will eventually find a market in FL and DLBCL as well as a slate of autoimmune conditions.
Mabworks’ largest shareholder — with nearly 40% of voting rights — is Li Feng, a general partner at Huatai Financial Holdings and the leader of the company’s largest stockholder syndicate. Feng joined the company back in 2012 when she and her team brought over the IP responsible for MIL62 in exchange for 12.76% voting rights.
Mabworks’ drug discovery platform takes two tacks: creating antibodies that stimulate NK and T cells for tumor-specific cytotoxicity and aiming for multiple targets at once. MIL62, what Mabworks is calling the first third-gen CD20 antibody developed in China now in late-stage testing, is being studied both by itself and in combination with a unspecified BTK inhibitor to treat DLBC, and combined with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Revlimid in FL.
According to the biotech’s figures, the anti-CD20 market in China could grow to about $4 billion by 2030 at annual growth of 20.9%, creating a meaningful market opportunity for its lead drug. While Rituxan is standard of care as a combo in first-line DLBCL, Mabworks thinks there is still a strong market for its antibody with 33% of patients not responding to that regimen. Meanwhile 20% of first-line FL patients eventually relapse, Mabworks said, offering another significant patient population.
With a sturdy pipeline, Mabworks could be the latest Chinese-bred oncology player to earn a massive IPO, particularly after biotechs like BeiGene, Zai Lab and Hutchmed have scored huge raises — and valuations — on the exchange.
Oncology on the whole has been a gold mine for both native Chinese companies and Western pharmas looking to innovate in an emerging market. Novartis, AstraZeneca and Roche, for instance, have all been in on the party, propping up commercialization in East Asia and abroad. Meanwhile, the teams at Hutchmed, Junshi Biosciences and others are chasing the US market with their own candidates. On that front, BeiGene struck gold first with PD-1 inhibitor Brukinsa’s approval in late 2019.