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
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