Fast-grow­ing As­cen­t­age has big plans for its lat­est $150M raise -- but what about the IPO?

Like many of to­day’s crop of transpa­cif­ic biotech en­tre­pre­neurs, it is dif­fi­cult to pin down where ex­act­ly As­cen­t­age co-founder and CEO Da­jun Yang is based.

“I spend most time trav­el­ing on the road,” he says, adding that the com­pa­ny has of­fices in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Suzhou, the US and Aus­tralia.

As­cen­t­age is no up­start. As it put to­geth­er the Se­ries C syn­di­cate of US/Chi­na in­vestors that col­lec­tive­ly brought in $150 mil­lion, the 8-year-old com­pa­ny was boast­ing a pipeline of 7 prod­uct can­di­dates in Chi­na (5 of those al­so in the US, 3 in Aus­tralia), 16 ac­tive INDs, and a staff of rough­ly 240.

As­cen­t­age’s most ad­vanced work is on apop­to­sis, with pro­grams aimed at pro­teins that in­clude Bcl-2/Bcl-xL, IAP and MDM2-p53. With the new in­fu­sion of cash, Yang tells me, the team wants to have six pro­grams in Phase II mul­ti­cen­ter tri­als by the end of the year. That in­cludes the two lead as­sets al­ready in mid-stage stud­ies — AT-101 (Bcl-2/xL and Mcl-1 in­hibitor) and APG-8361 (c-Met in­hibitor) — and four oth­er Phase I drugs tar­get­ing mul­ti­ple can­cer in­di­ca­tions.

“The abil­i­ty to dis­rupt dif­fi­cult-to-tar­get pro­tein-pro­tein in­ter­ac­tions could po­ten­tial­ly trans­form how cer­tain can­cers are treat­ed and en­able ex­pan­sion in­to new in­di­ca­tions,” not­ed Lawrence Tian, chair­man of Yuan­Ming Pru­dence Fund.

Yuan­Ming, an ear­ly in­vestor in the com­pa­ny, co-led the round with fel­low old-timer Oriza Seed Ven­ture Cap­i­tal and new backer Teng Yue Part­ners. Ar­row­Mark Part­ners, HDY In­ter­na­tion­al In­vest­ment, CTS Cap­i­tal and CCB In­ter­na­tion­al al­so chipped in.

The buzz of clin­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties will re­quire an in­crease in head­count and some new space. As­cen­t­age plans to build the team up to 300 in the com­ing six months, and reach 400 by the end of next year. Then there are the R&D cen­ter and man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty it’s plan­ning to con­struct in its Chi­na base of Suzhou, which are ex­pect­ed to be com­plet­ed by 2019 and 2020, re­spec­tive­ly.

There’s plen­ty go­ing on, for sure. But the most in­trigu­ing po­ten­tial move re­mains un­men­tioned — what about an IPO?

In March, just a month be­fore the Hong Kong stock ex­change opened up to pre-rev­enue biotechs, As­cen­t­age stoked the en­thu­si­asm by putting word out that they are drop­ping orig­i­nal plans to list on the Nas­daq in fa­vor of the Hong Kong pub­lic mar­kets. But Yang ap­pears more re­served now, say­ing on­ly that it’s an op­tion they con­sid­er fa­vor­ably.

“It’s just the be­gin­ning of the high qual­i­ty biotech com­pa­nies go­ing to IPO in Hong Kong,” Yang says.

Im­age: Da­jun Yang. AS­CEN­T­AGE

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

President Trump walks past HHS secretary Alex Azar (Getty Images)

Azar falls in line un­der Trump again. Ex­perts say he's re­in­forc­ing a dark sig­nal sent to the FDA

In the latest incident where Alex Azar has steadfastly taken the side of President Donald Trump over that of the FDA, the HHS secretary was noncommittal this morning when asked if he supports the attempt by his subordinates at the FDA to strengthen guidelines for a vaccine EUA.

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show, the HHS secretary muddied the waters, stating that the guidance that matters is the one that is “actually already out there.”

CDC’s Robert Redfield, NIAID’s Anthony Fauci, Admiral Brett Giroir at HHS, and FDA’s Stephen Hahn prepare to testify at a House hearing on June 23 (Getty)

'Ex­treme­ly po­lit­i­cal' — Trump neuters FDA's at­tempt to strength­en vac­cine EUA

Stephen Hahn went before a Senate committee Wednesday and declared he’s fighting. “Every one of the decisions we have reached has been made by career FDA scientists based on science and data, not politics,” he exclaimed, adding that “FDA will not permit any pressure from anyone to change that. I will fight for science.”

A few hours later, he was undermined by President Donald Trump when a reporter asked if he was okay with stricter vaccine guidelines that the FDA was said to be cooking up. “That has to be approved by the White House. We may or may not approve it. That sounds like a political move,” he decided.

David Berry (Flagship)

Flag­ship's next big tech­no­log­i­cal bet? The cloud

Earlier this month, Flagship announced their big bet on the software half the industry is talking about, launching the AI and machine learning startup. Now, they and a couple other investors are gambling $100 million on a software that much of the public generally thinks of as a cool, IT afterthought: cloud computing.

The idea, says founder and Flagship partner David Berry, is one of scale: The sheer magnitude of biological data that you can store on cloud technology is unprecedented. And that size, when leveraged properly, can allow you to ask questions and form insights that are similarly unprecedented.

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New York governor Andrew Cuomo (AP Images)

An­drew Cuo­mo says New York will un­der­take its own vac­cine re­view process, and wouldn’t rec­om­mend trust­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment

The concerns keep mounting over President Donald Trump’s politicization of the FDA and other federal agencies guiding the development of a safe and effective vaccine. And today, the telegenic New York governor Andrew Cuomo appeared to introduce even more politics into the matter — latest in an ongoing series of incidents that have cast the proudly independent FDA in starkly political terms.

During his daily press conference Cuomo said that the state will review any coronavirus vaccines approved by the federal government, citing a lack of trust of the Trump administration. The announcement comes one day after Trump accused the FDA of making an “extremely political” move in proposing stricter vaccine guidance.

Patrick Enright, Longitude co-founder (Longitude)

As its biotechs hit the pan­dem­ic ex­it, Lon­gi­tude rais­es $585M for new neu­ro, can­cer, ag­ing and or­phan-fo­cused fund

The years have been kind to Longitude Capital. This year, too.

A 2006 spinout of Pequot Capital, its founders started their new firm just four years before the parent company would go under amid insider trading allegations. Their first life sciences fund raised $325 million amid the financial crisis, they added a second for $385 million and then in, 2016, a third for $525 million. In the last few months, the pandemic biotech IPO boom netted several high-value exits from those funds, as Checkmate, Vaxcyte, Inozyme and Poseida all went public.

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Laura Shawver (Silverback Therapeutics)

Fol­low­ing a hefty Se­ries B, Sil­ver­back Ther­a­peu­tics quick­ly pulls in $85M for 'an im­por­tant growth phase'

Months after reeling in a $78 million Series B round, Silverback Therapeutics has hooked an even larger Series C.

The Seattle-based company announced Wednesday that it netted $85 million from a slate of new and previous investors. The quick boost could be a sign that an IPO is on the way.

In an email, Silverback CEO Laura Shawver told me she was “not able to provide any additional comments about Silverback” beyond what was shared in the company’s news release. In the prepared statement, she said the company is at “an important growth phase.”

Covid-19 roundup: Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed's 7th vac­cine is live at­ten­u­at­ed; Small biotech touts big suc­cess where gi­ants have failed

Operation Warp Speed is stacking its vaccine portfolio with a “TBD” new candidate: a live attenuated vaccine that can be administered in a single dose, potentially as an oral formulation rather than an injection.

Sound familiar?

That could be because the unannounced candidate appears to match the profile of an inoculation being developed by Merck, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the development based on a presentation by Moncef Slaoui.

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On­ly five months af­ter a Se­ries A launch, Taysha goes pub­lic with $157M IPO

As has been the trend in 2020, Taysha Gene Therapies has become the latest biotech to make a quick ascent from a small, privately-funded company to enjoying its very own Nasdaq ticker.

The Dallas-based biotech raised $157 million for its IPO after pricing shares at $20 apiece Thursday, the high-point of its expected range. Initially pegging $100 million in financing, Taysha offered a little less than 8 million shares and will trade under the $TSHA symbol.

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