Hong Kong-listed cancer screening start-up New Horizon Health to leverage AstraZeneca’s marketing muscle in China push

Eric Ng
·4-min read

Hong Kong-listed Chinese colorectal cancer screening start-up New Horizon Health has partnered with UK-based AstraZeneca to sell its molecular test in China.

ColoClear, the only such test approved in China, is expected to help reduce the incidence and mortality from the country’s third most-common type of cancer. AstraZeneca will promote the test in public hospitals and pharmacies as part of a three-year agreement signed on Monday.

“AstraZeneca is a very localised international company in China. Its over 4,000-strong digestive system sales team is unmatched by other companies,” Zhu Yeqing, New Horizon’s co-founder and chief executive, said in an interview on Tuesday. “They will also help open doors for us in overseas markets.”

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Colorectal cancer is ranked third by incidence among all cancers in urban areas in China, with 440,000 newly diagnosed cases in 2019. Urban lifestyles, such as higher protein intake and less physical activity, are a key risk factor.

The pair will officially launch ColoClear in mainland China on April 10, and will focus on 300 to 400 target hospitals this year, with a plan to reach more than 4,000 hospitals in the long term, Zhu said. New Horizon plans to boost its sales staff by tenfold to more than 500 by year-end, he added.

ColoClear, which has a target market of 633 million people under the Chinese health authority’s screening recommendation, was approved by the National Medical Products Administration last November based on results from a clinical trial on 5,881 people.

Users’ stool samples are typically collected at home, which are then couriered to laboratories for testing. New Horizon charges 1,996 yuan (US$307) for each test it offers as a medical service to hospitals. It now has the approval to sell it as a kit to hospitals to do the tests themselves.

The test has been shown to be able to correctly identify a person with colorectal cancer 95.5 per cent of the time, and is 63.5 per cent accurate in identifying someone with advanced adenoma – the most common polyp that carries a 10 per cent chance of containing cancer cells.

For individuals who test negative, the likelihood of actually having colorectal cancer is 0.4 per cent. Nearly half of those testing positive truly have advanced adenoma or colorectal cancer. They can reduce their mortality rate to a great extent by going through colonoscopy procedures.

“We spent over three years conducting our trials … no rival will be able to avoid doing a clinical trial in order to enter the China market,” said Gao Yu, New Horizon’s chief financial officer. He added that no rival had received approval to do a trial so far. “We are likely to be the only player in the next four to five years,” he added

New Horizon will need to do clinical trials to enter Western markets as well, due to different genetic profiles of cancer development across races. It will, therefore, focus its overseas expansion effort in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea, Zhu said.

With the help of Hong Kong-based partner Prenetics, it plans to launch ColoClear in the city by June, after having conducted hospital studies to confirm its clinical performance by retrospective trials, he added.

New Horizon’s HK$1.9 billion (US$244 million) initial public offering (IPO) last month was oversubscribed 4,000 times by Hong Kong retail investors and 64 times by international institutional investors. Its shares, which more than tripled on their debut from an IPO price of HK$26.66, rose 7.7 per cent higher to HK$55 on Tuesday.

On Monday, the company posted a pre-tax loss excluding non-recurring gains and losses of 170.8 million yuan for last year, narrowing a loss of 138.4 million yuan in 2019, as its revenue grew 21 per cent to 70.6 million yuan.

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