Right on the heels of $150M raise, As­cen­t­age files the lat­est in a rush of HKEX biotech IPOs — but is the mar­ket too jit­tery?

When I spoke to As­cen­t­age CEO Da­jun Yang last month about their $150 mil­lion raise, he dodged my ques­tion about the prospects for an IPO. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait long for the an­swer.

The fast-grow­ing biotech post­ed their ap­pli­ca­tion on the Hong Kong stock ex­change Mon­day, mark­ing the 10th bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny to line up their IPO pitch — all de­buts ex­cept for BeiGene — since the city opened up to pre-rev­enue biotechs in April.

Da­jun Yang

At 8 years old, As­cen­t­age is a well-known name in the Chi­nese biotech cir­cle that, in the lead-up to HKEX’s of­fi­cial rule change, 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.

As is fa­mil­iar prac­tice by now, As­cen­t­age heav­i­ly redact­ed the fil­ing and did not give away the ex­act amount they are look­ing to raise. But we do know that what­ev­er mon­ey they col­lect will fund their first po­ten­tial mar­ket­ed prod­uct: While HQP1351 is still very ear­ly in Phase II/III tri­als for chron­ic myeloid leukemia, the com­pa­ny sin­gled it out as the on­ly as­set with mon­ey al­lo­cat­ed for com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

The rest of As­cen­t­age pipeline, chiefly built on their work on a form of pro­grammed cell death known as apop­to­sis, is al­so get­ting some love.

One of them is a c-Met re­cep­tor ty­ro­sine ki­nase in­hibitor li­censed from Mer­ck that — as we now know from the fil­ing — As­cen­t­age paid $500,000 up­front for. The mile­stones for a first in­di­ca­tion would cost up to $8 mil­lion.

An­oth­er is APG1252, the sub­ject of a li­cens­ing deal where an­ti-ag­ing up­start Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy paid for rights to de­vel­op the Bcl-2/Bcl-XL in­hibitor for non-on­col­o­gy us­es. As­cen­t­age stands to earn $38 mil­lion in stock and cash in this pact.

If that sounds like a lot of pro­grams to keep track of, it is. Yang told me that their $150 mil­lion Se­ries C will al­low the team to push six pro­grams in­to Phase II mul­ti­cen­ter tri­als by the end of the year.

To keep up with the pace — with work tak­ing place in Chi­na, the US and Aus­tralia — 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. The IPO will foot some of those bills, too.

Have the shaky per­for­mances of BeiGene and As­cle­tis, the first biotechs to test the wa­ters at HKEX (and, to be sure, reaped huge amounts), af­fect­ed his ex­pec­ta­tions for As­cen­t­age’s float? I asked Yang for some thoughts and will up­date the sto­ry when I hear back.

UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes more than a week af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.

Mike Grey. Mirum

In $86M IPO pitch, Mirum spells out plans to turn Shire dis­cards in­to or­phan liv­er drug suc­cess­es

Mike Grey doesn’t have any time to waste. Hav­ing re­gained con­trol of two liv­er dis­ease drugs from Shire and po­si­tioned them for piv­otal stud­ies — five years af­ter first hand­ing them off in a deal to sell Lu­me­na, where he was CEO — Grey is steer­ing Mirum straight in­to an IPO with a $86 mil­lion ask.

Not that Mirum has spent much of its $120 mil­lion Se­ries A cash since launch­ing last No­vem­ber. Ac­cord­ing to the S-1, the Cal­i­forn­ian biotech has burned through $23.3 mil­lion as of March, but ex­pects ex­pens­es to pick up once their clin­i­cal work gath­ers steam.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus is pack­ing it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate tri­al events

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

Alex­ion wins pri­or­i­ty re­view for Ul­tomiris' aHUS in­di­ca­tion; FDA ex­pands ap­proval of Ver­tex's Symdeko

→ Alex­ion $ALXN has scored a speedy re­view for Ul­tomiris for pa­tients with atyp­i­cal he­molyt­ic ure­mic syn­drome (aHUS) af­ter post­ing pos­i­tive da­ta from a piv­otal study in Jan­u­ary. The drug is the rare dis­ease com­pa­ny’s shot at pro­tect­ing its block­buster blood dis­or­der fran­chise that is cur­rent­ly cen­tered around its flag­ship drug, Soliris, which is a com­ple­ment in­hibitor typ­i­cal­ly ad­min­is­tered every two weeks. Ul­tomiris has a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism of ac­tion but re­quires less-fre­quent dos­ing — every eight weeks. The de­ci­sion date has been set to Oc­to­ber 19. Late last year, Ul­tomiris se­cured ap­proval for noc­tur­nal he­mo­glo­bin­uria (PNH) pa­tients.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.