China-born entrepreneurs are returning to their homeland to find an industry filled with incentives in place for innovation, independent of generics. Here, we highlight five unique biotechs looking to serve the unmet needs of patients with their cutting-edge technologies in cardiology, immunology and more.
Adagene’s founder and CEO Dr Peter Luo has taken on the mission of designing engineering platforms, such as the Dynamic Precision Library (DPL), to “develop antibodies as human as possible while respecting Mother Nature.”
“The DPL platform was developed to meet the fundamental needs of the global biopharmaceutical industry,” notes Luo. “Firstly, the translational problem of moving antibodies from pre-clinical animal models into clinical human models, and secondly, the need to have differentiated molecules that genuinely address unmet patient needs.”
Through their DPL platform, Adagene has progressed their ADG106 monoclonal antibody into Phase I trials. ADG106 targets the CD137 epitope, a very important target essential in multiple immune-modulating functions, in the hope of fighting advanced and/or refractory solid tumours and lymphomas, independent of the crowded PD-1 or PD-L1 space. ADG106 demonstrates all the amazing hallmarks of an effective cancer immunotherapy: efficacy on its own within immune-intact syngeneic mice models, dose-dependence in multiple tumours, as well as an interesting immunological memory effect.
In March 2018, the company pulled off an impressive USD 50 million series C financing round putting their DPL platform’s mission at the forefront of revolutionizing the antibody discovery process.
In 2013, Ascletis Pharma took a leap of faith when choosing to build an integrated platform from R&D to manufacturing to commercialization in a competitive market like China. Today, Ascletis Pharma has become “the first homegrown biotech to launch [its] own product on the Chinese market.”
Since 2018, Ascletis has been marketing GANOVO®, a Hepatitis C virus (HCV) drug. China is the only country besides the US to have developed its own direct-acting anti-viral agent (DAA) for HCV, and even more impressively, GANOVO® is competitive with the current brands from Big Pharma companies such as Gilead, BMS and MSD.
Furthermore, Ascletis continues to exceed expectations with its novel HCV drug ravidasvir. Ravidasvir, when administered in combination with GANOVO® and ribavirin, has proven an unbelievable 99 percent cure rate in Phase III trials.
Motivated by the hope of improving Chinese state-of-the-art drugs, CEO Dr Jinzi Jason Wu raised USD 400 million to expand their R&D efforts into innovative areas representing significant unmet medical needs in China – with Hepatitis B virus (HBV) – and globally – with Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The two unique assets for HBV and NASH are now moving to Phase II clinical trials. Wu hopes to take Ascletis to the next level to compete on the global stage.
Established in 2000, Zensun has encountered a series of hurdles in the run to develop what his founder, Dr Zhou Mingdong, calls the only real made-in-China first-in-class treatment: Neucardin. Fast-forward 19 years, in a Phase III pivotal study, Neucardin has demonstrated the ability to reduce mortality rates by a stounding average of 82 percent of certain patients suffering from diastolic heart failure. Neucardin is a genetically engineered novel biologic that aims to restore the normal function of the heart by focusing on the movement of the former.
Zensun is now expanding its research to what may seem like two unrelated fields: Alzheimer’s disease and chronic constipation. Dr Zhou is certain that these two age-related chronic conditions are associated with the lack of ATP production. In response to positive pre-clinical results, Zensun hopes to enter clinical trials in 2020.
Zensun is very keen on Big Pharma collaborations and in 2018, secured funding of USD 76 million to ensure that Neucardin is the first made-in-China blockbuster.
President & CEO Dr Zhengyu Yuan and his partner Mikhail Gordeev are serial entrepreneurs whose first company, Vicuron Pharmaceuticals, was acquired by Pfizer for USD 1.9 billion. Seeing that they had more ideas within the healthcare space, they decided to rise to the challenge again in 2007 by founding MicuRx. The company focuses on antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
MicuRx’s flagship product is contezolid. Contezolid is a drug belonging to the oxazolidinone class of molecules that hopes to compete against linezolid, a drug currently marketed by Pfizer.
Both are very effective drugs for multi-drug resistant (MDR) Gram-positive bacterial infections, including Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin- resistant Enterococci (VRE) – except contezolid is as efficacious as linezolid but without the bone marrow toxicity.
MicuRx has already released Phase III data on contezolid and expects to file for NDA in China within the next two months and be in a position to IPO in 2020. In the next following years, Dr Yuan hopes “to bring more great products to the clinic and market.”
HiNounou’s CEO Charles Bark “dreams of empowering elderly people to have longer, healthier and happier lives at home.” After 12 years undergoing R&D, HiNounou launched in 2016 as a health technology company, different to a traditional biotech, that is dedicated to seniors, of which there are predicted to be 500 million in China alone by 2050.
HiNounou “sees health as a result of four dimensions: genetic, biology, social environment and living conditions.” In order to have a holistic view of all four dimensions, HiNounou offers a complete solution package: the first is a saliva swab kit for daily health monitoring and personalized early risk identification, the second is seniors’ insurance, and the third is a smartphone, designed in partnership with ZTE, dedicated to elderly people. In contrast to their competitors, there is a fourth aspect to their success: gamification. This is achieved through a HiNounou rewards and incentives program powered by Sodexo.
Many in the industry have realized the game-changing nature of the platform and decided to support it. HiNounou has entered Singapore, Poland, France and Thailand, and will soon launch in Japan and South Korea. After all, according to the WHO, 60 percent of chronic diseases and 40 percent of cancer are preventable.
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