Cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death and in China, the globe’s most populous country, it is an ever-increasing concern. In 2018, there were approximately 4.3 million new cases of cancer in China, and this number is expected to increase to 6.7 million by 2040. Below, we highlight four of China’s most innovative biotechs, with robust pipelines and proprietary platforms, aiming to combat cancer.
With over 20 years of experience in drug development, CEO Dajun Yang, along with two other co-founders, established Ascentage in 2009 with the mission to be “in China for global,” specifically in the less crowded field of apoptosis.
The ability to avoid apoptosis is regarded as one of the ‘hallmarks’ of cancer: a series of acquired characteristics needed to turn a few rebellious cells into an aggressive tumour. Ascentage focuses mainly on protein-protein interactions (PPIs) to restore the pathway of apoptosis – a largely unmet need within cancer research. To put it into context, today there is only one approved oncology drug on the market with this mechanism of action.
Moreover, to mitigate the inherent risks of innovation, Ascentage has diversified into the next-generation kinase inhibitor space.
As of December 2019, Ascentage has eight drug candidates in clinical development, 28 ongoing clinical trials and 21 INDs filed globally. According to a Chinese report published in April 2019, in terms of the total number of INDs accepted in the US, Ascentage ranks third amongst the entire Chinese biotech and pharma industry, following Jiangsu Hengrui and Fosun Pharma. To top it off, Ascentage went public on Hong Kong Stock Exchange in October 2019 – a milestone in Ascentage’s 10-year history.
As a company at the forefront of novel apoptosis targeting therapies, Ascentage has established a number of partnerships and collaborations with a diverse range of industry players, from MSD (Merck & Co in the US and Canada), Unity Biotechnology, and MD Anderson Cancer Center. Today, they are actively looking for potential partnerships with Big Pharma MNCs as well as companies whose portfolios have great synergies with theirs.
The unmet medical needs within China have driven Dr Frank Jiang, founder & CEO of CStone Pharmaceuticals, back home with the mission to address the ever-rising cancer incidence: there were 2.9 million cancer deaths in China in 2018, with cancer mortality growing at ten percent annually.
Founded in 2015, CStone has developed an oncology-focused pipeline of 15 drug candidates with a strategic emphasis on immune-oncology combination therapies. CStone is one of the few, if not the only, Chinese biotech company, to have a PD-L1, a CTLA-4, and a PD-1 molecule in clinical development.
Jiang, says “we chose immuno-oncology because so many people have responded extremely well to targeted therapies focusing on PD-1, PD-L1 and CTLA-4 targets – combination therapy itself is a proven tool to increase the cure rate of cancer.”
CStone broke financing records in their Series A with USD 150 million raised, Series B with USD 262 million raised, and also IPO on Hong Jong in February 2019 – in a short span of three years since its establishment. CStone’s ability to adhere to global standards attracts global companies with globally leading pipelines to partner with them, the cases in point being Bayer, Agios and Blueprint Medicines.
Though not purely a Chinese biotech, Predicine is a molecular insights platform company “developing precision diagnostics to enable precision medicine” in the field of oncology. Predicine, established in 2015 in both China and the USA, has found rapid success as a partner of choice for the top 20 biopharmas, including Roche, AstraZeneca and Merck.
By using precision medicine technologies, genetic vulnerabilities at the individual level can be identified to allow for a more targeted approach to screening, diagnosis, treatment and potential cure. Shidong Jia, founder & CEO, hopes to challenge biomarker driven clinical trials to improve the successful rate of the former, shorten the time from discovery to medicine, and deliver its new paradigm in cancer care. With an array of platforms, Predicine also aims to measure an individual’s inherent tendency to develop cancer, potentially pre-empting cancer threats.
With series B fundraising round approaching, Predicine aims to eventually IPO in NASDAQ, where most of their clients are listed.
With a special focus on meeting unmet medical needs in China, founders Jiang Lei and Shou Jianyong, established Ennovabio with a focus on developing strong data-mining capabilities to act as a pillar for the discovery of first-in-class compounds. With six candidates in pre-clinical development, Ennovabio’s product line covers tumour immunity, diabetic complications, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory diseases.
While we have perceived an explosion of therapeutic options that harness one’s own immune system to fight cancer, Ennovabio focuses on the small-molecule approach within the immune-oncology (IO) space, with a proprietary bioinformatics platform as the key technical differentiator. According to Jiang Lei, “Ennovabio’s compounds can complement the antibody therapies, namely PD-1/PDL1, and facilitate future combination treatments”.
Seeing that there are almost an infinite number of ways to combine different compounds, Ennovabio hopes to win in this crowded space by focusing on rational design to acquire strong theoretical support, and in turn, greater chances of success in clinical trials. In addition, the founders are looking to build win-win strategic partnerships that bring complementary assets in clinical development.
In November 2019, the company pulled off a remarkable USD 14 million Series A financing round.
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