Chinese cancer drugs developer Antengene is eyeing a stock market listing in Hong Kong this year to fund the commercial launch in China of a new medicine and further clinical trials partly aimed at plugging a gap in the treatment of cancers particularly prevalent among Asians.
The Shanghai-based company is among dozens of start-ups founded in recent years by mainland Chinese returnees, typically scientists who spent decades in academia and careers in large drug companies in the United States.
They are taking advantage of a rise in unmet demand for newer and more effective drugs for an ageing population in their home country, as well as policy reform that has speeded up clinical trials and approvals, and the allocation of more insurance funds to pay for them.
Cancers with a disproportionally high prevalence among Chinese – such as liver, nasopharynx, stomach, bile duct and certain types of blood cancers – is an area that has attracted them and their backers.
“In the past, more treatments have been developed for diseases with higher prevalence rates in the western world compared to those more common among Asians,” Antengene founder and CEO Jay Mei Jianming said in an interview on the sidelines of a JP Morgan health care conference in San Francisco last week.
“This is changing, as living and health care standards in parts of China and Asia are approaching those in Western nations, more resources are made available.”
A physician by training, Mei is a former executive director of Celgene, which was acquired last year by New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb in the world’s largest pharmaceutical combination.
A graduate of Xiangya Medical College – China’s first medical education institution founded as a result of Sino-foreign cooperation – he was responsible for Celgene’s global clinical development.
Prior to his time in the industry, which included stints at pharmaceutical giants Novartis and Johnson & Johnson, Mei spent eight years as an oncology researcher at the US National Cancer Institute.
With the support of Celgene as a founding partner and minority shareholder, he set up Antengene in April 2017.
In the same year, Antengene licensed from Celgene the right to conduct the clinical development and commercialisation of a drug candidate for liver cancer, lymphoma, non-small cell lung cancer and various solid tumours in Greater China, South Korea and Southeast Asia.
A phase two trial for a potential treatment of liver cancer patients who have previously been infected by the hepatitis B virus patients in various provinces in mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea is ongoing.
In 2018, Antengene licensed the development and marketing rights in mainland China, Macau and Southeast Asia from Massachusetts-based Karyopharm of four clinical-stage drug candidates including selinexor, for treating multiple cancers.
A China registration trial involving around 82 multiple myeloma participants is also under way.
Meanwhile another trial on B-cell lymphoma patients who have relapsed or failed to respond to treatment has also kicked off.
The oral drug was approved for marketing in the US last year. There were 16,500 new cases and 10,300 deaths in China from the disease in 2016, according to the Chinese Society of Clinical Oncology researchers.
Antengene on Monday received approval from Chinese authorities to start an early-stage clinical study on selinexor as a potential treatment for T-cell and NK/T-cell lymphoma which is much more prevalent in East Asia than in western nations.
Antengene is targeting a Series C round of private equity fundraising shortly after Lunar New Year, followed by an initial public offering towards the end of the year.
The company closed a US$21 million Series A round in August 2017, led by Qiming Venture, and a US$120 million Series B a year ago, co-led by Boyu Capital and FountainVest Partners.
Asked its criteria for a listing venue selection, Mei said: “There is no perfect market, each has its unique strength. Hong Kong’s strength lies in its access to international, Chinese and other Asian investors, which is unique and what made it suitable for Antengene.”
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