Nine list­ings and $3.8B lat­er, HKEX cel­e­brates one-year biotech an­niver­sary with $194M CRO IPO

So how is Hong Kong stock ex­change’s biotech board do­ing one year af­ter reg­u­la­tors opened up the list­ing regime to pre-rev­enue com­pa­nies in the field?

De­pends on how you look at it.

Charles Li

While on­ly nine biotech com­pa­nies — in­clud­ing one CRO gi­ant — have joined the HKEX this way in the past year, col­lec­tive­ly they have raised $3.8 bil­lion. By IPO pro­ceeds, that makes Hong Kong the sec­ond largest pub­lic biotech hub world­wide af­ter the leader Nas­daq, ac­cord­ing to Re­fini­tiv da­ta cit­ed by the lo­cal South Chi­na Morn­ing Post.

In a sign of the buoy­ant times, the drug dis­cov­ery spe­cial­ists at Vi­va Biotech are re­port­ed­ly eye­ing $150 mil­lion to $194 mil­lion (be­tween HK$1.18 bil­lion and HK$1.52 bil­lion) in their pub­lic de­but. The com­pa­ny first filed last Ju­ly.

Like fel­low CRO WuXi AppTec, Vi­va is mak­ing its pitch to in­vestors with rev­enue on its hands. The Shang­hai-based com­pa­ny is half-in­cu­ba­tor and half-con­tract busi­ness, of­fer­ing both “eq­ui­ty for ser­vice” and “cash for ser­vice” mod­els to US and Chi­nese bio­phar­mas look­ing for out­sourc­ing part­ners. The list­ing is ex­pect­ed to both ex­pand their port­fo­lio — 21 star­tups at last count — and boost their man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“In gen­er­al, for each of our in­cu­ba­tion projects un­der the EFS mod­el, we plan to con­tribute an av­er­age of US$1.5 mil­lion in cash or via drug dis­cov­ery ser­vices we pro­vide, with an aim to ex­it 50% of our eq­ui­ty/eco­nom­ic in­ter­est in 2.5 years af­ter in­vest­ment and the re­main­ing in­ter­est in 5.5 years af­ter in­vest­ment,” the com­pa­ny wrote in a fil­ing.

Sinopharm Cap­i­tal and two funds con­trolled by Shen­zhen GT­JA In­vest­ment Group came in as the cor­ner­stone in­vestors for the IPO, sub­scrib­ing for a com­bined 26% of the whole of­fer­ing, Caix­in re­port­ed.

The stock is sched­uled to de­but on May 9. Un­til then, the key ques­tion re­mains: Will it per­form more like the ear­ly pur­vey­ors like As­cle­tis, Hua Med­i­cine and BeiGene — all yet to re­cov­er from tur­bu­lence — or rel­a­tive new­com­ers like In­novent, CStone or even CanSi­no (now up more than 70% from IPO price)?

Over­all, though, HKEX chief Charles (Xi­ao­jia) Li would ar­gue they are mak­ing good progress.

“Far from be­ing dis­ap­point­ing, we are very pleased with the ear­ly de­vel­op­ment of our biotech and weight­ed vot­ing rights chap­ters in Hong Kong,” he wrote to the SCMP.

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.

Bris­tol-My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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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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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.

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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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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