Chinese biotech firm boosts funding, plans IPO next to catch European rivals in cancer therapy market

Peggy Sito
·4-min read

Chinese biotech company EpimAb Biotherapeutics has raised US$120 million in its latest fundraising to compete with US and home rivals, with an eye on what could be a US$12 billion global market for bispecific antibodies.

The fresh capital represents a precursor to the Shanghai-based firm’s public listing plan early next year to increase its financial firepower and compete with bigger rivals like Nasdaq-listed duo Merus and Affimed, as well as Hong Kong-listed mainland competitor RemeGen.

The six-year-old firm, backed by home investors and other venture capitalists, is likely to appoint investment banking advisers on its initial public offering (IPO) by midyear, said chief executive officer Wu Chengbin, who founded the firm in 2015.

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“Our plan is to finish the pre-IPO by the end of this year and move to IPO early next year,” he added. In terms of listing venues, “we are actually keeping our options open in various markets. The US is one of the markets we are considering in addition to Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong biotechnology IPOs in 2020
Hong Kong biotechnology IPOs in 2020

EpimAb’s Series C financing round was co-led by China Merchants Bank International and Mirae Asset Financial Group of South Korea. Other backers included mainland private equity firm Hony Capital and Boston-based hedge fund Cormorant Asset Management. Adrian Cheng, who runs developer Hong Kong-listed New World Development, is also an investor.

Appetite among investors in this segment is abundant as bispecific antibody, a new type of antibody-based therapy, is seen as a potential next big advancement in oncology. The global bispecific antibody market – not just limited to cancer treatment – is expected to reach US$12 billion by 2026, according to a report published by Kuick Research in September.

Bispecific antibody is an artificial protein that can simultaneously bind to two different types of antigen, working by directly engaging immune cells to attack tumour cells.

“In the cancer environment, immune cells cannot recognise the cancer cells,” Wu explained. “Bispecific antibodies ensure the immune cells can target and find the cancerous cells and kill them very quickly. It is like a person with two hands grabbing two ends and facilitating this killing process.”

Wu, who received his doctorate from the University of Georgia and postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School, founded EpimAb in 2015. He was formerly chief scientific officer at Shanghai CP Guojian Pharmaceutical from 2013 before setting out on his own venture.

EpimAb Biotherapeutics CEO Wu Chengbin says its leading antibody candidate EMB-O1 is currently progressing to phase two clinical studies in both China and the US. Photo: Handout
EpimAb Biotherapeutics CEO Wu Chengbin says its leading antibody candidate EMB-O1 is currently progressing to phase two clinical studies in both China and the US. Photo: Handout

EpimAb is one of only a handful of biotech companies in China with a proprietary technology. Its FIT-Ig, or Fabs-In-Tandem Immunoglobulin, technology can be used to develop products that generate bispecific molecules with antibody-like properties.

The company is not alone in bolstering its finances. Dutch group Merus raised US$120 million from a stock placement in January, while Affimed of Germany collected US$115 million in the same month. Their shares have risen 31 per cent and 43 per cent respectively this year, according to Bloomberg data.

Hong Kong’s stock exchange hosted 14 biotechnology IPOs in 2020 versus nine in 2019. In total, 22 health care firms raised US$12.7 billion, accounting for a quarter of IPO proceeds in Hong Kong, according to KPMG. The November US$592 million listing of autoimmune diseases drugs developer RemeGen topped the list.

Wu said EpimAb plans to use the US$120 million Series C proceeds to fund the ongoing development of its three clinical assets, namely EMB-01, EMB-02 and EMB-06, and to expand its pipeline of novel bispecific antibodies and other biologics.

Its leading candidate EMB-01 is designed to simultaneously target EGFR and cMET, two receptors widely expressed on multiple cell types, and their deregulation or mutation can lead to cancer, including lung cancer. The clinical asset is currently progressing to phase two clinical studies in both China and the US, Wu added.

Currently, there are two bispecific antibodies being commercially marketed globally. They are US-based Amgen’s Blincyto for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and Roche’s Hemlibra for haemophilia.

RemeGen, the Yantai, Shandong province-based biotech firm, received China’s approval last month for its RC18 product for systemic lupus erythematosus. At HK$100, its shares have almost doubled from the IPO level of HK$52.10.

“Our aspiration is to become a global leader in bispecific drug development,” said David Gu Xinyi, chief financial officer of EpimAb.

This article Chinese biotech firm boosts funding, plans IPO next to catch European rivals in cancer therapy market first appeared on South China Morning Post

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